Hanover Mobile Home Owners Association v. Hanover Village Associates

316 N.J. Super. 256, 720 A.2d 361 (App. Div. 1998)
  • Opinion Date: November 9, 1998

LEASES; RENEWALS—A court can add conditions to a landlord’s requested lease renewal terms so as to make those terms reasonable. A residential tenant has a legal right to challenge its landlord’s lease renewal changes and can not be evicted for refusing to sign while contesting them.

As leases in a mobile home park came to their end, the park owner, as landlord, insisted that the succeeding leases include two provisions. One provision was that the mobile home owner, at its own expense, remove and replace existing fuel oil storage tanks and install gas or electric heating in their place. The second requirement was that upon sale of a mobile home, it be tied down or anchored to limit the lateral and vertical movement of the home during heavy winds. The lower court took testimony as to the need for replacement of the existing oil tanks, finding that because of the age of the tanks, and their general condition, it was not unreasonable to require their removal. Consequently, in response to the tenants’ assertion that both requested lease changes were “unreasonable,” the lower court ruled that it was reasonable to require that the old tanks be removed at the mobile home owner’s expense. It conditioned that ruling on a requirement that the park owner give its tenants an additional year to make the change and contribute $250 toward its cost. With respect to the “tie-down” requirement, the lower court (and the parties) agreed that regulations promulgated by the Department of Community Affairs required mobile home park owners to adopt within their resale standards a requirement of anchoring at the time of resale. The issue, therefore, was whether it was reasonable to require that the tenants pay for such “tie-downs.” Again, the lower court found the landlord’s request to be reasonable given the relatively low cost of the “tie-downs,” and their great benefit to the mobile home owners. The Appellate Division agreed with the lower court in all respects including the lower court’s determination that the oil tank conversion requirement was only reasonable when coupled with the rent rebate and the extended time period for conversion. Consequently, in the view of the Appellate Division, the lower court did not exceed its authority by requiring the landlord to offer a rent abatement to tenants who convert within the extended period. When the mobile park owner argued that the lower court, having found the new lease provisions reasonable, should have granted a judgment of possession and evicted tenants who refused to sign a new lease, the Court drew the line. While under the anti-eviction statute a landlord may evict a tenant for a tenant’s refusal to accept “reasonable changes of substance in the terms and conditions of the lease,” the Court found that tenants have a legal right, pursuant to the statute, to contest the reasonableness of the lease terms. Therefore, the lower court was correct in not granting a judgment of possession to the landlord because of the tenant’s unwillingness to sign the lease.