New Jersey Appellate Court upholds Lower Court Decision to evict tenant for Assault
In a recent written opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a trial court’s ruling permitting the eviction of a tenant who was found to have assaulted another tenant. This case, Tamerlane & Tamerlane III v. Andrea Hollis, (Docket Number: A-3788-16T3, decided December 12, 2018, not for publication without approval of the Appellate Division), is notable in that the tenant was evicted even though she was not criminally prosecuted or found guilty of assault. The decision is also noteworthy for landlords and property owners as it addresses the valid legal steps to evict a resident who is acting in a similar manner.
In Tamerlane & Tamerlane III, the plaintiff was a landlord providing rent subsidized housing under the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Community Development Program (RHCD). Prior to the incident that brought about the eviction complaint, the tenant was served with written notice advising the tenant not to enter the management office because of a prior incident in which she threatened, screamed and cursed at the management staff.
However, the month after she was given that written notice, the tenant returned to the management office following an incident regarding the drop-off of her children at a bus stop. In the management office, the tenant saw another resident who was involved in the incident, and began assaulting the other resident, breaking her eyeglasses and cutting her forehead. The property manager also alleged being assaulted by the tenant.
The landlord served the tenant with a Notice of Termination in compliance with New Jersey’s Eviction Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53 through 2A:18-54, on the same day of the last incident, setting forth the facts of the assault on another resident and property manager. Ten days later, the landlord filed the complaint for eviction. The Appellate Division noted that the landlord did not have to wait 10 days after the Notice of Termination was served in order to file the complaint. Under N.J.SA. 2A:18-61.1 et seq., there are 17 different grounds for evicting a tenant for cause. If the basis is for disorderly conduct or other criminal activity, as indicated in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(a), only three days’ notice is required.
At trial, the landlord-tenant judge did not find the defendant tenant’s testimony as to her version of the events to be credible, stating that the defendant did beat the other resident without justification. However, the judge declined to rule whether there was any intent to assault the property manager, though there was testimony that the defendant swung at the property manager, striking the property manager’s hand, causing her to lose a fingernail.
On appeal, the Appellate Division found no reason to disturb the factual findings of the landlord tenant judge. The defendant argued unsuccessfully on appeal that the landlord failed to include Federal Regulation 7 C.F.R. § 3560.159(d) [termination of tenancy based on criminal activity] as a grounds for eviction in the lease, and that the landlord failed to serve the tenant with a prior written Notice of Violation as set forth in the lease and required under Federal Regulation 7 C.F.R. § 3560.159(a) (2004). The Appellate Division disposed of these arguments, noting that Federal regulations allow a landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant for criminal activity under 7 C.F.R. § 3560.159(d), that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents including property management staff residing on the premises, pursuant to 24 C.F.R. § 5.859(a)(1). In sum, the Appellate Division found that the lease, New Jersey’s summary eviction statute, and federal regulations permit termination of a tenancy for criminal activity in the form of assaulting another resident in the complex or a landlord's employee.
At Griffin Alexander, P.C., our team has extensive experience representing New Jersey landlords, apartment and property owners in complex issues with residents. We understand the difficulties in issues such as those presented in Tamerlane & Tamerlane III v. Andrea Hollis, and can provide valuable legal advice on how to handle such matters.
The information in this Client Alert is provided solely for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice on any specific matter and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based upon particular circumstances. Each legal matter is unique, and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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