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Housing Authority of the City of Bayonne v. Hanna

A-0788-10T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

EVICTION; HOUSING AUTHORITY — Just because a jury finds that a public housing tenant fraudulently concealed or misrepresented an ownership interest in other property, such a verdict does not automatically entitle the housing authority to damages or give it the right to evict the tenant.

A tenant loaned his brother money to purchase property. The tenant’s name was placed on the deed to ensure payment. Once his brother paid in full, they executed a contract of sale to transfer the property. The brothers met with an attorney to prepare a deed transferring the tenant’s interest to his brother and they both believed the tenant’s name had been removed from the deed. However the attorney unexpectedly died without filing a new deed.

The tenant then submitted an application to the municipality’s Housing Authority for low income public housing, stating he had no assets and owned no real property. The lease allowed the housing authority to evict a tenant if he or she made a misrepresentation of any material fact in an application for housing or in a statement submitted to the housing authority. After receiving an anonymous tip that the tenant owned the property where he resided, the housing authority told the tenant that his ownership interest rendered him ineligible for public housing, and it would seek to terminate his lease due to his misrepresentation of ownership. Ultimately, the housing authority filed an eviction complaint, seeking a judgment of possession and sought damages. At trial, the jury was instructed on the elements of fraud and damages. The lower court also used a verdict sheet. The jury answered “yes” to whether the housing authority had proven that the tenant fraudulently concealed or misrepresented his ownership interest in the property, however it answered “no” to whether the housing authority should recover monetary damages and compensatory damages. The lower court entered a judgment of no cause and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

The housing authority appealed, arguing that the verdict was inconsistent and that the jury’s finding that the tenant had committed fraud entitled it to possession and damages. The Appellate Division concluded that while the jury did, in fact, find that the housing authority had proven, by clear and convincing evidence, that tenant fraudulently concealed or misrepresented his ownership interest in the property, this verdict did not automatically entitle the housing authority to damages or eviction. The jury then found either that the housing authority suffered no damages, or failed to meet its burden of proof for damages and eviction. Accordingly, the Court found nothing inconsistent in the jury’s verdict, and affirmed the dismissal.


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