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Housing Authority of the City of Camden v. Williams

A-3249-09T2 (Super. Ct. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; PUBLIC HOUSING — Where a public housing authority seeks to evict a tenant based on the tenant’s threatening actions, such as by wielding a knife against the authority’s employee, the tenant may assert the defense that he or she has a mental health condition and a court is therefore required to consider whether the authority is making a reasonable accommodation for federal and state law with respect to that mental health condition.

A tenant threatened a housing authority security guard with a knife. The authority sent the tenant a notice that it intended to terminate her lease. A two-day administrative hearing was held. Just prior to the hearing, the tenant, for the first time advised the authority of her mental health condition and requested reasonable accommodation of her disability; specifically, a waiver of the authority’s no-tolerance policy against the alleged behavior. The hearing officer upheld the authority’s decision and the authority then formally notified the tenant of the lease termination and filed a complaint for eviction.

At trial, the tenant introduced a note from a doctor of osteopathy stating that she was bipolar and undergoing therapy. The tenant testified that she had completed an anger management course, was in treatment for her mental health condition, and was compliant with her medication. Despite the treatment, the tenant became so disruptive before the trial commenced and the lower court called a recess and requested the tenant’s attorney to caution her that if she did not quiet down, she would be ejected.

At the landlord-tenant trial, an authority witness testified, as did the tenant. The authority produced a police report, but not the lease or a certified copy of the judgment resulting from the entry of the tenant’s guilty pleas. The authority’s witness testified that the tenant had been recertified once as an eligible tenant subsequent to the incident, but now that eviction proceedings were pending, she would not be recertified. He also testified that the tenancy continued on a month-to-month basis after expiration of the lease. The lower court dismissed the eviction complaint because no certified copy of the judgment of conviction was produced, holding that without such a certified copy, there was no proof that the tenant had committed a criminal offense.

On appeal, the authority contended that no documentation was necessary; it asserted that the tenant’s testimony that she entered a guilty plea was sufficient as was the authority witness’s testimony that he previously heard her admit to entering a guilty plea. The Appellate Division found that no certified judgment was necessary at trial; the tenant’s admission was sufficient evidence because the eviction statute specified certain forbidden conduct and did not necessarily require a conviction.

Thus, the Court reversed and remanded, requiring the lower court to consider reasonable accommodations under federal and state law, which the dismissing lower court had not considered.

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