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Riverview Towers Associates v. Jones

358 N.J. Super. 85, 817 A.2d 324 (App. Div. 2003)

LEASES; SUBSIDIZED HOUSING—Compliance with federally subsidized housing notice requirements is a pre-requisite for a non-payment eviction even though no notice of non-payment would be required under New Jersey’s Anti-Eviction Act.

Two separate tenants of a subsidized home for senior citizens and the disabled each complained to their landlord “about unauthorized intrusions into their apartments by a maintenance staff member.” One of them had temporarily withheld rent based upon her landlord’s purported failure to rectify the problem. Eventually, neither of these tenants paid rent for two consecutive months. The landlord filed complaints in tenancy, seeking judgments for possession. On the trial date, the tenants’ attorney “asserted that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter and sought to dismiss the complaints based on [the] landlord’s failure to comply with federal law.” Essentially, the argument went to whether proper notices had been sent. The landlord took the position that the eviction complaints were sufficient notice to confer jurisdiction on the court. The Court agreed. Judgments of possession for non-payment of rent were issued. The matters were stayed during appeal.

“Subject to certain exceptions that [were not relevant in this case], a landlord in New Jersey may remove a residential tenant from an apartment complex for nonpayment of rent by a summary dispossess action under the Anti-Eviction Act.” No notice is needed. The filing of a complaint alone is sufficient. However, rent subsidized tenancies created by the federal Section 236 Rental Assistance Program are subject to other requirements, by way of regulation, in addition to state requirements. Prior case law has held that the federal requirements imposed on a landlord seeking to terminate a subsidized tenancy are “jurisdictional prerequisites to the establishment of good cause for eviction in state courts.” The specific regulation in question requires written notice to a tenant stating “that the tenancy is terminated on a date specified therein; ... [stating] the reasons for the landlord’s actions with enough specificity so as to enable the tenant to prepare a defense; (3) [advising] the tenant that if he or she remains in the leased unit on the date specified for termination, the landlord may seek to enforce the termination only by bringing a judicial action, at which time the tenant may present a defense; and (4) [must] be served on the tenant in a manner prescribed… .” In nonpayment cases, the notice must state the dollar amount of the balance due and the date to which it was computed. The federally required lease mirrors the language of the federal regulation. Consequently, because the landlord failed to comply with the federal lease termination notice requirements, the lower court “lacked jurisdiction to enter the judgments of possession.”

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