Ross Gold, Other/Just Looking in New Jersey

I am working on a case here at my father's Law Firm. A client of ours, remodeled a Two Floor, Two-family

Asked by Ross Gold, New Jersey Wed Jul 16, 2008

Home, into four separate units. Two on the ground floor and two on the 2nd floor. But the zoning laws don't allow four unit buildings in that area. Consequently, our client got a letter from the City citing her for the aforementioned viloation. I would greatly appreciate your advice on what we can do to get our client up to code. One thought I had was to remove a kitchen from two of the top units and then connect the two halves again in some manner. Thanks.

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Peter you are great. Thanks so much. Really good advice and a great help. And, you are 100% correct in your curiousity about how town found out. What happened was, a builder bought the home next to the my fathers clients building, and wanted to build a four unit complex just like ours and the town said no. Then they asked why my clients building was a four unit building and the town said "oh really", and the story goes from there. For some reason, no complaints here, the town is letting my client and here family occupy the building without a C/O. It is only occupied by family. The issue si that our client wants to sell the building and can not without a C/O and so forth. Well, thanks again. Ttyl all later. I am heading over to building dept. right now. I will update in case anyone is curious on what they have to say. Take care.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
Thi main issue is the fact that the town has already issued the warning notice. i am curious how they found out. Usually towns are reactive so if no one "squeals" then they do nothing. Furthmore if the building was totally family occupied then it might have passed muster. You see 2 family houses are treated alnmost like single family homes but once you get above 2 units its a whole new ball game. Zoning is different and you WON'T get a varience to have a 3 plus in a 2 family zone. The town and State require the building to be registered and inspected on a regular basis. In Jersey City for example there is rent control on 3 units and above and so on.
When you go to the building Dept - not the zoning office as hey are not involved - tell them the full story and that way they might work with you. Now they will not allow the continued non conforming use but they may ameliorate the fines and allow extended time for the work to be done. Bring your client and a very large box of tissues. Tears and knees are a great help in these cases.
But do not expect miracles - hias is CityHall and they take no prisoners.
My email is on my profile if you need any more info let me know.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
This question has already garnered great answers. I would just point out that while current zoning doesn't allow for the 4 units, zoning when the changes took place might have been different. I would check that with the zoning officer as well.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
Wow, this site is great. Great answers. Thanks all. All little additional information. Our clients husband who has since passed, did the conversion work without permits about 20-25 years ago. Currently, she lives there with her family and occupies three of the four units. She is in one. Son and family in one. And other son in the other. the fourth unit is empty. He should have got permits prior and would of known he couldn't do it. Now she is left with his mess to clean up. Each half of the building actually has one staircase that runs the entire length of each half. What separates top and bottom of each half is just a door in the staircase. Well, thanks again and I am going to go talk to the city zonning officer. That seems like the place to start. I just didnt want to awaken a sleeping dog until I had a resolution. It has been a while and I havent heard from them. But, our client want to sell the building but cannot becuase of violations. Maybe, a buyer would be willing to find a resolution and pay to fix problem. Taking that money out of final selling price. Thanks.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
Likely the city has already told your client what to do. Convert it back with permits. She should speak with city zoning and building personnel and good local architect and GC who did the work. I suspect the contractors did work without permits which is also a no no.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
Towns in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties are really cracking down on illegal conversions for a number of reasons. You have to understand your client has a number of problems. Firstly if the units are occupied then at least 2 of the tennats will have to be displaced and the owner will be reqired to assist them in finding new accomodations.
It is most mportant that the owner go to the town construction official and discuss with them exactly how they want them to proceed. They will demand that the building be returned to its original authorsed use - i.e. a 2 family home. In all likelyhood they will require architect plans and estimates from a licenced contractor before proceeding. They way you describe it won't work. The letter you describe in all likelyhood put a cutoff date by which time the work has to be at least started and if that is not complied with then there are SUBSTANTIAL DAILY FINES.
You must emphasise to the homeowner that there are in very serious trouble. They are firmly in the sights of the town ofiicials and they cannot even lift a hammer without getting a permit. Furthermore they can face fines for all the undocumened work done on the property especially since a 4 family was involved.
Believe me - I work with people as a realtor in the area and I am a property owner myself and Ican assure you there is no way around this mess.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
You need someone familiar with the city's zoning laws. They can vary widely. So the definition of what counts as a unit similarly can vary.

One other possibility, perhaps a long-shot: Have your client apply for a variance.

Good luck.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
Don Tepper, Real Estate Pro in Burke, VA
Someone should pay a visit to the construction office for the town involved. There is also a question of whether the owner resides in the building (as you know, different rules apply.) Is the building correctly registered with the State? Are inspections up to date? On the face of it, your idea sounds good as far as it goes. Your client may have to remove 2 of the 4 kitchens, but nothing should be done without advice from the city. If a client of mine had such a problem, I (as a REALTOR) would refer him to a real estate attorney.

Joan Prout, MBA
Broker Associate
Jersey City, NJ
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
Sorry to hear what happen HAPPY YOU POSTED THE BLOG, reason why many remodel without a second thought of city code then get into this situation. However I have a question the city has to issue permits usually there are many procedures was the city aware of the construction project allowed this to happen? Just a passing thought. RECOMMEND to review all the properties in that area and try to determine either keep as flats or townhomes what has the better resale or leasing options, work with a good realtor who would research for this for you, Heck based on sq. ft. having 2 kitchens is nice feature.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
That would probably work - assuming it was a legal duplex before. Why not ask the city? Start with the department that sent the letter. If there is only one stairway, it will probably be easier and less expensive to make it a "one up/one down" duplex - otherwise they could do a "side by side" version. Make sure your client pulls building permits for whatever work they do!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 16, 2008
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