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Perretta v. Wyles

A-3730-08T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

LEASES; SECTION 8 — Since a minor has the legal capacity to enter into a residential lease agreement (because it is a necessity), a municipal housing authority cannot automatically disqualify such a minor from continuing to receive a Section 8 subsidy upon the death of the minor’s parent-tenant.

A tenant leased a row house apartment. The rent was $925 per month. The tenant received a Section 8 rental subsidy from a municipal housing authority. The lease listed the named tenant and three of his children as occupants. The tenant lived in the apartment until he died two years later. A seventeen year old daughter continued to live in the apartment. The lease agreement required the landlord to give at least 60 days’ notice before the lease term ended. The housing authority notified the tenant’s family that its rental assistance would terminate roughly a month after the tenant’s passing.

Prior to this date, an attorney for the seventeen year old daughter sent letters to the authority to request “remaining member status” and to request a recertification hearing regarding the rental assistance. The authority did not respond. Instead, it terminated rental subsidy payments for the tenant’s apartment. When no rent was paid to the landlord, it filed suit to evict the daughter for nonpayment. The lower court entered a judgment in favor of the landlord, but stayed the eviction pending trial of the daughter’s claims against the authority. At the end of trial, the lower court said that the daughter’s leasehold was not terminated by her father’s death and her status as a minor at the time of his death did not automatically disqualify her from participating in the rental assistance program. It directed the authority to complete the recertification process for the daughter and place her in the rental assistance program if she so qualified. The authority appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that, under law, a lease is not terminated by the death of a lessee, but passes to the lessee’s estate. The Court found that this principle fully applies to month-to-month leases, with the condition that a landlord may still terminate the lease by giving one month’s notice to the estate’s legal representatives. It also held that the daughter became the tenant upon her father’s death and was entitled to claim the rental subsidy. The Court further held that the daughter had the legal capacity to enter into a lease agreement, even though she was a minor because, in New Jersey, a minor’s contract for a necessity, such as housing, may be enforceable. Therefore, the authority should not have automatically disqualified her from continuing to receive the subsidy based on her minority. The Court further found that if the daughter met all other necessary qualifications, she should be reinstated into the rental assistance program, and any rents owed by the daughter could be addressed at that time.

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