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Appellate Division Affirms Trial Court’s Judgment Of Possession To Landlord In Eviction Action

December 17, 2018

ROBERT B. SPAWN reports on a recent unpublished decision from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

In a recent New Jersey case, a Plaintiff-Landlord sent a three-day Notice of Termination of Lease to a Defendant-Tenant on January 30, 2017.  The Notice specified that Plaintiff was seeking termination of Defendant’s lease due to a January 30, 2017 incident in which Defendant had allegedly entered the management office and assaulted both Plaintiff and another resident of the complex.  After Defendant did not leave her apartment within three days, Plaintiff filed a summary eviction action on February 15, 2017, again citing the January 30, 2017 assault as justification for Defendant’s forced removal from the premises.


Following a two-day bench trial on March 23 and 24, 2017, the judge found that Defendant was given multiple prior notices in November and December 2016 not to enter the management office because of an incident that had occurred on October 6, 2016, during which Defendant allegedly screamed at, cursed at, and threatened the management staff. The trial judge further explained that, despite these previous warnings, Defendant entered the management office on January 30, 2017, knowing she was not allowed to be there, and confronted another resident who was also in the office.  Defendant then assaulted the resident, breaking her eyeglasses and cutting her forehead.  Though the judge did not reach the issue of whether Plaintiff herself was actually assaulted, he nonetheless described Defendant as a “menace, an aggressor, an attacker, and a danger to [the] community” on the basis of her consistently disruptive behavior.  Accordingly, the judge granted a judgment for possession of the premises in favor of Plaintiff, and entered a written decision to that effect on April 28, 2017.


On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter because Plaintiff had failed to send a Notice of Violation of Lease prior to serving Defendant with the three-day Notice of Termination of Lease on January 30, 2017, which contravened both the lease and federal regulations.  The Court, in swiftly dismissing this argument, asserted that the lease, the New Jersey summary eviction statute, and federal regulations all permit the immediate termination of a tenant’s lease when that tenant is engaged in criminal activity, and when that tenant threatens another resident’s health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises.  Thus, the Court held that Plaintiff’s three-day Notice of Termination was more than sufficient under the circumstances, and that, given Plaintiff’s criminal activity (i.e., her assault of another resident), no Notice of Violation was required.  Indeed, the Court noted that landlords should have a quick and reliable means of preventing future instances of assault or other criminal activity from occurring.  Consequently, the Appellate Division did not disturb the findings of the trial court and affirmed the judgment for possession in favor of Plaintiff.


Please contact Robert B. Spawn if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.