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Martinez v. Zambrano

A-0020-02T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; RELOCATION—A tenant that is evicted because its apartment was illegal is entitled to its actual relocation expenses up to six times its proven rent and not merely six times its rent.

A landlord permitted a tenant, a relative of her former spouse, to illegally occupy an apartment in the basement of her one-family home. The rent for the space was $500 per month, but it was unclear if the tenant had paid the rent and how much was paid. After the landlord was cited by the municipality for permitting an illegal tenancy, the landlord requested that the tenant vacate the apartment. When the tenant did not leave, the landlord filed an eviction action. The lower court, in applying N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1h(a), required the landlord to deposit six times the monthly rent in court as a condition for issuing a warrant of removal. The statute states that a tenant who is displaced because of an illegal tenancy in a residential property is entitled to receive relocation reimbursement expenses from the landlord for up to that amount. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded, finding, as it had in a prior case (a case that, ironically, was before the same lower court judge), that it was not the purpose of the statute to provide a windfall to the tenant. The purpose of the statute is to reimburse the tenant for its actual relocation expenses in an amount not to exceed six times the monthly rent. The Court noted that the lower court did not inquire as to whether the tenant actually paid rent and how much it paid. Without evidence that it paid any rent, the tenant was not entitled to reimbursement under the statute. Further, the lower court did not inquire as to the actual dollar amount of the tenant’s relocation expenses. Even if the tenant did pay rent, he would only be entitled to his actual relocation expenses up to six months’ rent. Consequently, the Court remanded the case to the lower court (and to a different judge).

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