Appellate Division Reverses Judgment Of Possession Due To Landlord's Failure To Follow Notice Requirements
If there was ever a question in the minds of landlords about the seriousness of complying with state laws, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently answered the question in a clear and concise manner in an unpublished decision in the case of Cahn Estates v. Sanchez, 27-2-4190 (App. Div. 2014). Strict compliance with the state's notice requirements is a must and the Court proved this point by reversing a landlord's judgment of possession.
What Brought About the Case?
The tenant, Facundo Sanchez, had leased an apartment from Cahn Estates (the landlord) for the last 17 years. In April of 2013, one of the landlord's employees went to talk to Sanchez about issues surrounding his dog barking at tenants and repeatedly using the apartment building's hallway as a bathroom, among other things. Upon the employee's arrival to the tenant's apartment, Sanchez answered the door and the dog started barking and actually lunged at the employee. The employee asked Sanchez to put the dog elsewhere, but Sanchez refused to do so, even after being advised of concerns over the dog possibly biting the employee. Not only did Sanchez refuse to put the dog away, but he even acknowledged the fact that the dog would bite, and the employee ended up leaving the premises.
Three years prior, the landlord had served Sanchez with a Notice to Cease, which sought removal of the dog; however, nothing further was done by the landlord after that. Ultimately, the landlord served the tenant with a tenancy termination notice on April 26, 2013, noting that Sanchez's tenancy was being terminated due to disorderly conduct, citing the fact that the dog threatened the employee; Sanchez allowed and/or caused the dog to loiter in the building's hallway, causing unsanitary conditions; and Sanchez caused other residents not to have peaceful use of their premises, among other things.
Cahn Estates filed a Verified Complaint on May 8, 2013, seeking judgment for possession on the basis of "threats against landlord reps, disorderly/destructive tenant." The case went to trial in June of that year, judgment was entered in favor of the landlord, and Sanchez was served with a removal warrant that was to be executed June 25, 2013. Sanchez filed several motions, but in the meantime, the parties entered into an agreement to vacate by July 31, 2013. Of the motions filed by Sanchez, the court denied his Order to Show Cause motion; however, the "Application for Permission to File Emergent" motion was granted on July 30, 2013, as well as the motion to Stay the Eviction on August 5, 2013.
The tenant claimed that under New Jersey's Anti-Eviction Act, the trial court didn't have jurisdiction to enter a judgment for possession for "disorderly conduct" on the basis that the Notice to Cease was untimely, having been served years prior to the Notice to Quit. This left the only avenue for eviction available to the trial court being on grounds of "terroristic threats or assault", N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(p). Under subsection p, a Notice to Cease is not needed so long as the landlord can prove terroristic threats or assault have occurred.
In this case, the Appellate Division found that the facts did not total "terroristic threats or assault" and vacated the judgment for possession. Had the landlord properly served a Notice to Cease for "disorderly conduct" however, the judgment would likely have remained. What is important for landlords and commercial real estate owners and developers to take away from the case is that complying with state law with respect to notice requirements and any other requirements is crucial, and doing so may help to avoid such issues and keep them out of the courtroom. If you have questions or concerns about the state's notice requirements or any other tenant/landlord issues, contact the attorneys at Griffin Alexander, P.C. today.