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Oakwood Towers v. Pribytkov

A-5417-08T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION — A violation of any rule that is a basis for eviction of a residential tenant must be substantial; that is, it must be a considerable or significant breach.

A disabled and elderly tenant lived in a federally subsidized senior housing complex. The tenant had multiple ailments and had difficulty communicating with others. The complex wished to have an exterminator enter his apartment and perform an inspection after he complained of a bedbug infestation. The tenant resisted, and refused to allow the exterminator into the apartment. The tenant received a letter from the property manager assuring that any chemicals used were odorless and would cause no harm, but the tenant continued to have concerns and contacted a county health commission about the potential health effects of the pesticide. The landlord notified the tenant that if he did not allow access to the exterminator, legal proceedings would begin. He subsequently received notice that his failure to allow the exterminator access to his apartment was grounds for eviction. Despite the many scheduled appointments, the tenant never allowed access. The complex filed suit, seeking eviction based on violation of the lease. The lower court found that the tenant had violated the lease by denying the landlord and its exterminator into the apartment. According to the lower court, whether the exterminator was going to fumigate was not the issue; the exterminator had to have access to determine whether further action was required and the denial of access was a lease violation. It entered a judgment for possession, and denied subsequent requests to vacate the judgment, other than permitting the tenant to remain in the apartment pending appeal.

In the appeal that followed, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that the tenant’s application to vacate the judgment should have been granted. It found that, under the New Jersey Anti-Eviction Act, a landlord must plead and establish good cause for eviction by a preponderance of the evidence. In this case, denial of access was asserted as the reason. The Court held that a violation of any rule as a basis for eviction must be substantial, that is, it must be a considerable or significant breach. Minor or trivial transgressions do not qualify as good cause to evict. Here, the Court held that the lower court failed to refer to any evidence or discuss the substantial nature of the tenant’s violations. Thus, as a matter of law, the denial of access was not a substantial violation warranting eviction, but was only a minor violation of the relevant rules.

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