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Jefferson Adams Rehab. Co. v. Prins

A-1770-02T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT SECTION 8; RENT; EVICTION—A thirty day notice of rent increase sent to Section 8 tenants under HUD regulations and under the Tenant Anti-Eviction Act must be resent if the factual circumstances supporting the proposed rent increase change after the notice is sent.

A landlord used the model lease mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for its subsidized “section 8” housing tenants. This lease required tenants annually to re-certify their family income and its composition and to sign a sworn compliance statement with that information. A particular tenant was section 8 certified in February 2001 as a family of five with a total family income of $31,921 and with rent of $737. At the time of the tenants’ lease renewal, they notified their landlord’s representative that their two sons no longer resided in the apartment. On January 14, 2002, the tenants provided documentation for their income and the landlord re-determined their monthly rent to be $2,601. The tenants refused to sign the compliance statement. Therefore, on January 17, the landlord notified them that, due to their failure to sign the compliance statement, their HUD subsidy had been terminated and the monthly rent would be $2,704. The landlord also notified the tenants that if they didn’t pay the new rent, they would be evicted. Around this same time, the tenants also presented proof to the landlord that their remaining son had vacated the apartment on January 26.

On June 17, 2002, the landlord served the tenants with a Notice of Intent to Terminate Assistance and Notice of Consequential Rent Increase, a Notice to Cease, and a Notice to Terminate Lease. On August 6, following a June 26 meeting between the parties, the landlord notified the tenants that because the tenant’s son had left the apartment the adjusted rent was now only $1,432, with $5,678 in back rent due.

On August 12, the landlord filed a complaint for eviction alleging non-payment of rent and breach of lease. The tenants moved for dismissal based on a lack of jurisdiction. The lower court denied the motion, finding that the landlord had met the notice requirements of the Anti-Eviction Act, and entered a judgment for possession. On appeal, the tenants again claimed the lower court lacked jurisdiction, and pointed to HUD regulations that require a landlord to give its tenant thirty days notice of rent increases that result from other than failure to comply with re-certification requirements. The tenants also pointed to the Anti-Eviction Act’s requirement that “[f]or an action alleging refusal of acceptance of reasonable lease changes, one month’s notice prior to institution of action is required.”

The Appellate Division took note that the landlord had served various notices on the tenants on June 17, 2002, and that the complaint for possession was filed on August 12, 2002. The Court found that by that date in August, the factual circumstances had materially changed because the tenants’ remaining son had moved out of the apartment. The Court held that notices sent in June could not be used to satisfy the one-month notice requirement of the Anti-Eviction Act because the August 6 rent adjustment so modified the circumstances as to make the June notices no longer a valid basis upon which to predicate the complaint for possession. It also held that after the landlord modified the tenants’ rent on August 6, it was required to re-serve new thirty-day notices reflecting the changed circumstances and the modified amount of back rent alleged to be due.

Therefore, because the landlord did not serve its tenants with timely notice that reflected the new rent terms and the amount owed, it failed in its obligation to comply with the Anti-Eviction statute and HUD’s regulations. Accordingly, the Court held that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to enter a judgment of possession because the complaint for possession was filed without a proper thirty-day notice.

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