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Casale v. Mosseri

A-714-99T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION; RENT CONTROL—A rent controlled tenant who has filed a rent appeal has the burden of showing that his eviction is retaliatory, and nothing in the Anti-Eviction Act precludes a landlord from wanting to personally occupy an apartment for personal financial and social reasons.

The owner of a condominium unit rented to tenants at a monthly rate that exceeded the amount allowed by the municipality’s rent leveling ordinance. The landlord discovered that its tenants were making inquiries with the local rent board, and responded by serving them with a Notice to Quit. The Notice gave a termination date for the existing lease and offered a new lease at a slightly higher rent. The tenants would not sign the lease until they received a rent calculation from the Board. Their landlord responded by serving them with a second Notice to Quit. In that Notice, the landlord informed his tenants he was unwilling to re-let the premises because he intended to occupy it himself. Under the rent leveling ordinance, once an owner has occupied the premises for at least a year, it becomes deregulated. At trial, the landlord said he wanted to occupy the unit himself for several reasons, economic and social. He testified that he could not maintain his present rent for his existing apartment and meet the expenses associated with carrying the condominium unit based upon the allowable rent. Also, the landlord, who was unmarried, noted that the location would afford him closer access to Manhattan, and more social outlets than were available to him in his current residence. The tenants maintained that the eviction was a subterfuge to remove the unit from the purview of the rent leveling ordinance. The trial court accepted the landlord’s proffered reasons, and entered a judgment of possession. The tenants appealed, but the Appellate Division would not substitute its view of the record for that of the trial court. The tenants contended that it was contrary to the spirit of the Anti-Eviction Act to permit the judgment for possession to stand. According to the Court, however, nothing within that Act “precludes an individual from relocating both to enjoy a congenial social environment and to stanch his economic losses by assuming occupancy of the unit.” The tenants also complained that the lower court misapplied the law by placing the burden upon them to show that their eviction was retaliatory. The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that the statute creates a rebuttable presumption and that its reading of the lower court’s opinion indicated that the landlord’s testimony effectively rebutted the statutory assumption.


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