Rose Dee Realty v. Marsilii

A-3862-96T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: October 16, 1998

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION—A tenant may not use an eviction proceeding as a forum for collaterally attacking a rent leveling board’s decision.

Three years after inception of its lease, a residential tenant sought a determination from the local rent leveling board that they had been charged in excess of the legal base rent. The hearing officer found that the tenant had been overcharged, but also found that they were not entitled to a rent rebate because the tenants had failed to file their claim within two years after they first began paying rent. Instead of challenging the hearing officer’s determination, the tenant engaged in the self-help remedy of withholding rent to “make up” for the amount it had been overcharged. The landlord brought a summary dispossess action and the Special Civil Part rejected the tenant’s claim, finding that the two year limitation was properly a part of the rent control ordinance. The tenant released the amount in dispute to the landlord before a judgment of possession could be entered and the Court dismissed the landlord’s complaint. When the tenant appealed, the Appellate Division declared the matter moot because no judgment was ever entered and the underlying complaint was dismissed.

The Appellate Division, however, added the following comments. The tenant’s use of the self-help remedy followed by an attempt to collaterally attack the hearing officer’s decision in the summary dispossess action was clearly improper. As such, the tenant misconceived the Special Civil Part’s responsibility in a summary dispossess action. Such actions are designed “to give a landlord a quick remedy for possession.” As a creature of the legislature, the provisions of the summary dispossess remedy should be construed strictly. The legislature did not intend the Special Civil Part to determine complex legal issues related to administrative law. The simple and overriding fact was that the tenant sat idly after the hearing officer’s decision and then sought to attack the rent leveling board’s duly promulgated regulation in a proceeding in which the board was not even a party. The Appellate Division would not permit a party to use the Special Civil Part in such a fashion.