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Housing Authority of the City of Camden v. Carroll

A-5487-09T4 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

LEASES; PUBLIC HOUSING; NOTICE —The actual grounds proffered at the eviction trial of a public housing tenant must be ones that were set forth in the prior, federally required notice of termination.

A tenant lived in a public housing apartment where tenancies were governed by the United States Housing Act of 1937. The Act requires that to evict such a tenant, a landlord has to send written notice of the lease termination stating, in detail, the specific grounds for termination. Failure to do so denies a court jurisdiction to issue a judgment of possession.

The tenant’s landlord sent a termination notice. It stated the lease was being terminated because her son, who was listed as a household member on the annual lease renewals, had violated the landlord’s “one strike and you’re out policy” by reason of being observed selling or possessing drugs on the premises. He had been arrested and charged with possession of drugs with the intent to distribute them within 500 feet of the public housing development.

Subsequently, the landlord filed a summary dispossess action seeking eviction based on non-payment of rent and on the violation stemming from this particular arrest. However, shortly before trial, the landlord discovered that the son had a prior criminal conviction, and although it gave the tenant no notice it was going to seek a lease termination based on that earlier conviction, it relied solely on that conviction at trial, and presented no evidence of the more recent arrest. The lower court entered a judgment of possession based on the earlier conviction.

The tenant appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. In doing so, it held that the termination notice only specified that the basis for the lease termination was only the latest arrest for drugs, and the housing authority had not provided notice that it would try to use the earlier criminal conviction at trial. Therefore, the Court held the lower court lacked jurisdiction to enter the judgment of possession.

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