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Burrough v. Borough of Brooklawn

A-2315-06T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION; RELOCATION — Where a tenant’s occupancy of an apartment violates code requirements, but the tenant was unaware of the violation and its landlord renewed its lease despite its own knowledge of the violation, the landlord can no longer argue that because the tenant, itself, was responsible for the code violation, its tenant is not entitled to relocation assistance.

A tenant “leased a duplex, consisting of a living room, dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms and a bathroom, from [a municipality] under its Neighborhood Preservation Balanced Housing Program, a state-funded affordable housing program for [municipal] residents.” When the tenant first occupied the apartment, she, her husband, and their three children lived there. At that time, she was pregnant with her fourth child. After she gave birth, the municipality renewed her lease. A year later, the same month as in which she gave birth to her fifth child, the municipality again renewed her lease. Before the end of the next year, the municipality reviewed an income verification statement from the tenant which disclosed that the “duplex would be occupied by two adults and five children.” The municipality then inspected the property and determined that use of the house for “seven residents would violate the occupancy limit set forth in” the BOCA Property Maintenance Code. It then wrote to the tenant, telling her that it would not renew her lease. It demanded that she move out within about seven weeks.

After receiving the letter, the tenant “made several attempts to obtain relocation benefits, which the state makes available for the fair and equitable treatment and relocation of persons displaced by state and local government activities, including code enforcement.” Her attempts “proved fruitless, as she was informed that [the municipality] did not offer such benefits.” She then filed an appeal with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), and a hearing was held before the Office of Administrative Law. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) “issued an initial decision, finding that [the tenant] was entitled to benefits because she was ‘a displaced tenant not primarily responsible for the code violation which caused her relocation.’” The ALJ ordered the municipality to pay relocation costs. The DCA adopted the ALJ’s Initial Decision. The municipality appealed, but the Appellate Division rejected the municipality’s argument which, in essence, was that the tenant had caused the code violation herself. The Court believed that the tenant “did not have knowledge of the code requirements and [the municipality] twice renewed her lease, despite its knowledge that her family was then in violation of the code.” The Court thus believed that “the code violation was not primarily attributable to [the tenant], and she [was] entitled to relocation assistance.”

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