Proposed lake community assessment bill debated

West Milford. Legislation making its way through the state could significantly impact how lake communities can assess property owners.

07 Aug 2019 | 01:52

The ability for governing associations in lake communities to collect mandatory assessments from all properties may be in jeopardy if proposed state legislation is signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Some residents in lake communities other than West Milford did not want to be forced to pay fees to associations, sparking legislation in the New Jersey State Senate that would make such payments voluntary.

Local Township Council members and lake association leader’s reaction was that without the ability to require all residents who live in lake communities to belong, and pay dues to community associations, the lakes would not have revenue for necessary repairs and maintenance.

Without work, conditions in those lakes could deteriorate with the resulting in a decrease in property values throughout the community.

Those challenging the mandatory assessments gained a small victory with the state Senate’s unanimous passage of the Senate Bill S-3661 that clarified that lake communities could not mandate assessments.

Opponents fear the new law could undermine the lake communities that are already subject to extraordinary regulatory obligations.

During a discussion at a recent council meeting, some council members thought that most of the support for the legislation came from legislators outside of the lake community areas of the state, making them unaware of its implications.

The loss of West Milford Lake in the center of the town’s business district was cited as an example of what can happen if there is not a mandatory assessment allowed in a lake community.

The West Milford Lake Association dwindled down to about eight devoted members when others refused to join the group.

This was before mandatory assessments.

The association held rummage sales at its club house and produced other fund raising events to pay the bills, but finally disbanded when its effort to save the lake proved fruitless with not enough money available to keep things going.

The state decommissioned the lake dam and it was expected it would return to a marsh state – only it did not.

The wetlands empties, but nature continues to return water to it.

The property was finally sold and there were proposals that never materialized.

The clubhouse was torn down after a snowstorm destroyed the roof.

After the senate bill passed, the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee took on the task of making a review through bill A-5043.

Concern was expressed by opponents that Gov. Murphy would be signing the legislation and it would become law.

West Milford council members planned to contact legislators and Murphy asking them to not approve the proposed legislation.

The summary of A-5043 states that the bill clarifies the scope of the assessment payment responsibilities and election participation rights of owners in planned real estate developments.

“The associations of certain planned real estate developments in the state have interpreted that the provisions of P.L. 2017, c.106 (C45:22A-45) may impose new responsibilities on certain property owners to pay assessments and other charges to the association,” it said. “The bill clarifies if a person owns real property, for which an association did not have authority to compel payment of assessments or other charges prior to the effective date of P.L.2017 c.106 (C45:22A-45.1 et al), , then following the effective law of that date of that law, the person shall not (1) be required to pay assessments or other charges to the association: (2) be provided with membership in the association or (3) be entitled to election participation or voting rights in the association. The bill does not apply to real property that had not yet transitioned from developer control prior to the effective date of P.L. 2017, c. 106 (C45:22A-45.1 et al.)."

Township Attorney Fred Semrau said the proposed new law would not affect lake communities where the state has mandated repairs to lake dams.

The residents of the lake community still would be assessed for cost of the dam repair as they are at present.