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Legory and Jackson v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

A-4071-00T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2002) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION; RELOCATION ASSISTANCE— Tenants who are denied continuing rental assistance because the assistance agency has determined that the apartments violate the applicable building code are entitled to relocation assistance even if the tenants had not actually been removed from the property.

Residential tenants were evicted from their apartment as a result of a government agency’s code enforcement. The tenants applied for relocation assistance and an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled in their favor. In its final determination, the Department of Community Affairs reversed the ALJ. It concluded that the tenants were not dislocated, and therefore not entitled to relocation assistance, because the tenants were not required to leave the apartment by order of a state or local government agency. The tenants argued that the landlord evicted them as a direct result of the agency’s code enforcement and therefore they were “displaced” within the meaning of the statute and entitled to relocation assistance. The Appellate Division noted that an appellate court may defer to an agency’s expertise, but is not bound by the agency’s interpretation of a statute or legal issue. It found that the agency had ignored the fact that another government agency advised the tenants that, as a result of the code enforcement, their rental assistance payments were being stopped. As a result, the tenants believed they had to leave. The Appellate Division reversed the agency’s determination and awarded relocation assistance.

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