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Rosenbauer v. Ruban

A-0817-08T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION — Strict observance of notice requirements by a landlord is required under the Anti-Eviction Act and is a jurisdictional requisite, and even if a tenant has already left, the tenant may be entitled to have an eviction order set aside because of the tenant’s risk of losing the ability to gain acceptance by landlords if the tenant has been evicted for cause.

A landlord sued to regain possession of a room she had let to a tenant. She sent seven notices to the tenant requesting that the tenant refrain from doing certain actions within the house, notifying the tenant that she had to sign a lease and agree to the rules and regulations governing her occupancy, and notifying her that the rent would increase. Finally, the landlord sent the tenant a Notice to Quit for refusing to sign a lease and then filed a complaint in the Law Division.

The Law Division issued a judgment of possession. Because the house was occupied by the owner, the Court ruled that the Anti-Eviction Act did not apply. The Court also entered judgment of possession based on nonpayment of rent and disorderly conduct. It denied two motions by the tenant to vacate the judgment of possession, although it did reverse itself and held that the Anti-Eviction Act applied. Despite the Anti-Eviction Act, it held that the tenant had received the required notice and found that the landlord had submitted sufficient evidence to terminate the tenancy for cause based on disorderly conduct. It also refused to grant a stay because the landlord would suffer a significant hardship. The tenant moved from the premises and appealed the lower court’s ruling. It claimed that the Notice to Quit was insufficient as a matter of law. Therefore, the tenant argued that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to consider those grounds. The tenant also alleged that the landlord returned two vouchers from the local welfare agency that would have paid the rent. The tenant appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed, first noting that although the tenant had no intention of resuming occupancy of the premises, the tenant risked losing the ability to gain acceptance by other landlords if evicted for cause. The Court found that when a landlord seeks to terminate a tenancy for cause, it is required to serve a Notice to Cease, and then a Notice to Quit. It held that the function of the Notice to Cease is to provide notice to the tenant of offending conduct and an opportunity to alter that conduct. It also noted that the purpose of the Notice to Quit is to inform the tenant that the tenancy has been terminated, the reasons for termination, and that the tenant must leave the premises.

The Court held that strict observance of the notice requirements is required under the Anti-Eviction Act and is a jurisdictional prerequisite. It ruled that the record revealed that the landlord had sent four notices that the lower court properly found satisfied the obligation to provide a Notice to Cease. The Court, however, held that the landlord’s Notice to Quit was insufficient because it did not properly advise the tenant, but only informed the tenant that landlord was able to initiate legal proceedings to evict the tenant and offered the possibility that the tenant could continue to occupy the premises if she signed a lease and agreed to be bound by the rules and regulations. Accordingly, the Court held that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to terminate the tenancy for any cause other than for nonpayment of rent where neither a Notice to Cease nor a Notice to Quit is required. As to the nonpayment of rent claim, the Court noted that the tender of rent on the trial date cures the cause for eviction. Here, having issued what the landlord believed to be an effective Notice to Quit, landlord did not accept the tendered vouchers because it would have nullified the notice to quit. The Court opined that the landlord’s rejection of the tender of rent nullified its right to seek possession due to nonpayment of rent. Further, the Court found that the tenant was prepared to pay the rent due and did not do so because it would not secure her continued occupancy due to the legal ruling concerning the sufficiency of the notices and the conduct of the tenant. Therefore, the Court ruled that the judgment of possession on nonpayment of rent was not supported by the record.

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