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The Meadows Foundation, Inc. v. Williamson

368 N.J. Super. 416, 846 A.2d 653 (App. Div. 2004)

LANDLORD-TENANT; RESIDENTIAL; EVICTION—Where the primary reason to allow a tenant to reside in an apartment is to have a caretaker for the property, the tenancy is not protected by the Anti-Eviction Act; further, a landlord may collect rent while demanding possession of an apartment without voiding a previously sent notice to quit.

A non-profit corporation subleased space to a tenant. The sublease provided for the use of an apartment located on a historical site which allowed public visitation. Therefore, the sublease set forth the tenant’s special responsibilities as “Resident Caretaker.” The subtenant was to perform housekeeping and grounds maintenance. Over the course of the sublease, the corporation felt its subtenant’s maintenance was inadequate, and it served a notice to quit and demand for possession. When the subtenant didn’t leave, the corporation brought suit.

The subtenant argued that the Anti-Eviction Act barred the corporation from re-taking possession of the premises because it had accepted rent for the two months that the tenant had occupied the premises after receiving the notice to quit. The lower court held that the Act did not apply because it is limited to leases whose purpose is residential in nature and excludes leases that serve, to a substantial degree, non-residential purposes. The primary purpose of the tenancy was to ensure that a caretaker was present to watch the historic site and to perform necessary maintenance functions. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that occupancy of a dwelling unit does not automatically make the occupant a residential tenant under the protection of the Act. The corporation was not a classic residential landlord seeking greater investment returns through renting to a tenant. It had an obligation to maintain the site for the purpose of facilitating public usage and enjoyment of the property. Furthermore, the dispute was not over the tenant’s failure to pay rent. The Court felt it would be absurd to require a landlord with a legitimate basis for demanding possession to forego occupancy compensation during the notice to quit period. Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the lower court which held that the Act did not apply, and agreed that the corporation’s acceptance of rent did not constitute a waiver.

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