NJ Town Suing Homeowners to Fix Own Sidewalks or Face Fines

Can cities take our taxes, but pass laws that force local citizens to individually pay for services anyway, thereby making tax dollars used solely to pay city worker’s salaries? One city in New Jersey is trying this ploy, anyway.

City authorities in Highland Park, New Jersey have stopped using tax dollars to fix sidewalks and are attempting to force residents to pay their own money to replace the deteriorating concrete slabs in front of their homes–slabs put in by the city years ago and originally paid for with tax money. Worse, now the city is taking residents to court who have refused to pay their own cash to fix these sidewalks.

Two years ago the city of Highland Park passed an ordinance to save tax dollars by requiring residents to pay their own money to fix the sidewalks.

After the ordinance was passed, city inspectors ranged out across the city to inspect the sidewalks painting a white X on the ones the city intended to force home and business owners to replace with their own money. Then, after a few months time, the city began to send out letters to residents demanding that the sidewalks be fixed at a cost of some $300 per slab.

The city claims it is a matter of “safety.” Residents say it is just a shake down.

Now, two years later, many homeowners have refused to pay this new tax and have not fixed the sidewalk slabs tagged by the city. So, the city is now taking dozens of homeowners to municipal court to force them to abide by the fiat “law.”

The city attorney has sent letters to 81 residents who have refused to pay this new stealth tax telling them that they are being sued by the city. Officials claim that a fine of $139 for a first “offense” will be levied on top of the cost to replace the concrete slabs in question.

Some of the homeowners say that the sidewalks have been ruined by tree roots from trees that are on city property and they don’t feel they should have to pay to replace sidewalks ruined by roots coming from city-owned trees.

But whatever the cause of the deterioration, how is it proper that a city can use tax dollars to make these walkways but then years later simply decree that the sidewalk repairs are now the duty of individual homeowners to make?

And if this policy stands, where does it end? Can a city say that residents have to pay for sewers, police, other services? And if so, then what are taxes for in the first place? Just a means to pay city workers… workers who do… what, exactly? If city residents are supposed to pay for everything as individuals instead of collective taxpayers, why do we need city workers? Why not just have private services for everything and eliminate the government and the taxes?

So, why pay taxes at all if none of that money is going to actually serve the people?

Still, if this is the sort of corrupt program that we can expect of our governments, then tax protests should become the norm, shouldn’t they? What form that protest might take is hard to say, but how can citizens fight back against this stuff?

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  • ohio granny

    Here in Ohio it is the homeowners responsibility to repair the sidewalks. At least in the cities that I know. Also I have known of cases where no sidewalks the homeowners were ordered to put in sidewalks at their expense or the city did it and added the cost to the property tax bill. Things may be different in other places.

    • Larry Brown

      Yup, you beat me to it. Where I grew up (Hamiton, OH) everyone dreaded seeing red “X’s” on their sidewalks. Meant that you had to replace the sections with the X.

  • JWH

    Don’t know how I would go on this case.

    • jim_m

      What? So you are OK with the idea that the city can come in, modify your property as they see fit, then charge you to maintain those changes at your expense? Do you not believe in property rights?

      • JWH

        Not what I said. I’ve looked at Warner’s commentary. I also read the linked article and several other articles about these sidewalks. This reading has not enlightened me as to the facts or the applicable law. If I were one of these homeowners, and there was gray in the law, I would certainly fight the assessment. But when I try to judge this objectively, I find that I’m not sure where I would go with it.

        • jim_m

          I’m not even discussing what the law may be. We know from the Kelo case that the state will pass horrible laws that take away our rights.

          I am addressing the issue of whether or not it is right for the state to modify your property without your consent and then 1 force you to maintain it out of your pocket and 2 to fine you for not doing so.

          I believe that this is an unconscionable violation of property rights. You appear to be unable to decide whether or not people should have these rights.

          It gets down to your concept of rights. Are rights given to you by the government, or do you have rights regardless of whether or not the government recognizes them?

          • JWH

            Again, I would want to weigh a number of factors, including new Jersey Property law, the specific law regarding the sidewalks,any covenants that might run with the land, more general precedent regarding property owners’ responsibility for sidewalk maintenance, and so forth. Unless I understand the existing law, I can’t ascertain who should prevail in these matters.

            And it’s not just Highland Park that is forcing this, Other NJ municipalities (as I understand it) are dealing with the same or similar legal issues.

            Now, as a general rule, I think it’s pretty shitty of a city to put in a sidewalk, then try to force adjacent property owners to maintain the sidewalks on their own dime. I don’t even have to reach property rights to say this … it’s just unfair. If the city needs to spend money to bring sidewalks back into compliance, then it needs to reduce expenditures elsewhere, float a bond (inadvisable) or raise taxes to cover the costs.

          • jim_m

            I agree completely with you last paragraph and would further state that regardless of the law there should not be a situation where the city can force a homeowner to maintain what is really city property.

          • JWH

            I take a somewhat more nuanced view. It is entirely possible to have a covenant running with the land — that is, a stipulation that goes with the deed to a property. While some covenants (exclusionary covenants in particular) are pernicious and would not hold up in law, I see nothing wrong with a municipality or a private actor enforcing a covernant that requires a property owner to maintain a sidewalk. After all, the property owner agreed to the covenant when it came with the land.

            Similarly, if a property owner bought a piece of property in a jurisdiction that ON OR BEFORE THE DATE OF PURCHASE required homeowners to maintain the sidewalks, I would say that the homeowner ought to be responsible for that sidewalk. After all, he knew or should have known of that law when he bought the property.
            I speak to gray areas and such because I know that some jurisdictions require homeowners to clear snow off sidewalks abutting their property during snowfall. I don’t know which jurisdictions do so … and, again, a property owner should apprise himself of such laws before he buys the property.

          • jim_m

            Boston does that. You have 6 hours after the snow stops to clear your sidewalk. If the plow buries your sidewalk after you shovel you are still responsible for clearing that too. It’s repugnant.

  • Retired military

    Is the ground the side walk on property of the property owner? if so then I think the property owner should be allowed to charge tolls for anyone crossing their property or else block people being able to use their property.
    Sorry I don’t think that this should be legal or tolerated. If I were the citizens I would fight it through the courts and campaign against any idiot in office who voted for it.

  • LiberalNightmare

    Sounds like a local govt is about to get un-elected.

  • GarandFan

    Doesn’t this town hold elections? That’s how you’d “Fix” this problem.

  • stan25

    Tax dollars going into the pockets of city officials. Must be controlled by DemocRATs.

  • Chic Magnet Bailey

    Ohio has some serious discrimination issues with their laws concerning sidewalks. Some streets have sidewalks on one side only, causing financial burdens to a select group while the others share none of the burden but all the privileges. Some residential properties exceed over 500 ft of sidewalks that can cost over $30,000, then they have other costs to maintain them and also expose themselves in liability. Such laws are absolutely discriminatory and unjust.