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South Plainfield Senior Residence v. Craig

A-1447-07T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION — Residential tenants may be evicted if they make terroristic threats, but to be a terroristic threat, it must be made under circumstances where the threat carries the serious promise of death.

A landlord attempted to evict a senior citizen tenant from its housing complex under a statute that permits eviction if the landlord proves beyond a preponderance of evidence that a tenant made terroristic threats against it or its employees. The landlord brought the action after the tenant made disparaging and hostile comments about the building’s superintendent in private discussions with her friend and fellow tenant. At trial, the lower court was guided chiefly by the friend’s testimony when she testified that the tenant said that she wished the superintendent had gotten stuck with a syringe full of the HIV virus and that she knew people who could have that done. It concluded that the tenant’s statement did not rise to a level of an actual threat to commit an act of violence, as there was no evidence that the tenant actually knew someone with the virus or that she had the means to put infected needles in the trash. The lower court, instead, characterized the statements as gratuitous and off the cuff. Accordingly, the lower court found that the landlord had not proven the requisite elements of a terroristic threat by a preponderance of the evidence, and so dismissed the complaint and vacated the notice to quit. The landlord appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed. It held that deference to a lower court is especially appropriate where evidence is testimonial and involves questions of credibility. The Court found that the lower court’s findings, including that the tenant’s statements were gratuitous, were logical and well supported by the proofs. It also found that the lower court correctly applied the statutory law. A terroristic threat must be made under circumstances under which it carries the serious promise of death, and in this instance the comments were found not to rise to the level of such a threat that could warrant an eviction.

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