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Doran v. Lewis

A-3563-00T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2002) (Unpublished)

LEASES; EVICTION— In an eviction action, the appearance of a non-tenant co-occupant is not a substitute for that of the named tenant and although a default can be entered, the resulting eviction is not dispositive of the rights and obligations between the co-occupant and the landlord.

At the time an apartment house owner purchased its building, there was a lease in effect covering one of the apartments. It identified the named tenant as well as a co-occupant who was not named as a tenant. After the breakup of a romantic involvement, the named tenant left the apartment. The co-occupant remained for four years, without any change to the lease. Upon the expiration of the lease, the new landlord submitted a new form of lease to the named tenant, “essentially similar to the prior lease, except for providing that there [could] be no sub-letting of the apartment and also requiring that the [named tenant] occupy the apartment as his primary residence.” The co-occupant asked the landlord to list her as a co-tenant, but the landlord refused. Under applicable rent control rules, the landlord could raise the rent more with a new lease to a new tenant than upon a renewal, such as the one at hand. For that reason, it was clear that the landlord preferred that the apartment be vacated or that the co-occupant be treated as a new tenant. The lower court ruled “that by reason of her occupancy of the apartment, and the lease provision which acknowledged her right to be an occupant of the apartment, she had achieved the status of a tenant.” Essentially, the lower court ignored the status of the named tenant. The opinion referred to the co-occupant as “the only tenant” and held that the lease could be signed by the co-occupant. The Appellate Division found that the appropriate judgment would have been to evict the named tenant and terminate his lease rights and deal with appropriate provisions concerning the co-occupant’s position. All the lower court had done, however, was to dismiss the landlord’s complaint. The Appellate Division focused on the fact that the co-occupant was not a party to the action. “Thus, the lease was with [the named tenant] only.” All of the notices were directed to the named tenant. It didn’t matter to the Court that the attorney who opposed the landlord introduced himself as representing both the named tenant and the co-occupant. Nonetheless, the Appellate Division held that there had to be “some basic compliance with fundamental rules and principles, and one such fundamental rule and principle is that judgments of a court should be rendered in favor of or against parties to the action and should bear some relationship to the pleadings and demands for relief in the matter.” Consequently, it rejected the judgment in favor of the co-occupant and remanded to the lower court for a judgment in favor of the landlord and against the named tenant. In that remand, it instructed that nothing in the lower court’s final judgment should have any effect on the rights and obligations between the landlord and the co-occupant.

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