Appeals Court Upholds Limit on Homestead Rebate Qualification

by: Thomas Olson
5 Dec 2009

A New Jersey appellate court recently affirmed the decision of New Jersey Tax Court Judge Joseph C. Small, P.J.T.C. (now retired), for the reasons expressed in Judge Small’s published decision at 24 N.J. Tax 141 (2008), which held that a resident may not tack previous time living at a residence with time spent at their current residence to satisfy the three year residency requirement to qualify for Homestead Rebates under N.J.S.A. 54:4-8.67.

The taxpayer claimed she should be permitted to tack the time she resided in each of her residences because she was forced to relocate after her property was taken through eminent domain.  This argument, along with her statutory interpretation of N.J.S.A. 54:4-8.67, was rejected because the interpretation would render portions of the statute meaningless.  Additionally, the Appellate Division agreed with Judge Small that tacking should only be permitted in adverse possession cases unless expressly permitted by the Legislature.

The Appellate Division disagreed with Judge Small’s conclusion that the Legislature’s repeated failure to enact bills to reduce the residency requirement displayed their intent to maintain a bright-line three year residency period.  A footnote highlighted that the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 54:4-8.67 to allow a one-year eligibility requirement for a previously-qualified taxpayer who relocates.  The Appellate Division concluded however that that portion of Judge Small’s opinion was not essential to his final conclusion, and therefore affirmed the “balance of his well-reasoned opinion”.