[117 NJSuper Page 492] In March 1971 the tenants of a number of adjoining multi-family houses containing 26 units, owned by the same landlord and located at Emma and Spring Streets in the City of Elizabeth, formed a tenants association. They communicated with the landlord, advising him of numerous complaints concerning conditions on the premises they occupied. Receiving no satisfaction, they filed a petition in this court on June 30, 1971, requesting the appointment of an administrator and the payment of their rents into court, to be used by the administrator to correct the conditions on their premises, all pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:42-85 et seq.
On July 12, 1971, following trial, this court held that the tenants had established their right to relief under the act.
On the same day the landlord had already prepared notices terminating all tenancies and requiring the tenants to quit the premises as of September 1. Some notices were served immediately following trial, and the remainder within the next few days. When the tenants failed to move, the landlord brought the present summary dispossess proceedings. All cases were consolidated for purpose of trial.
The question presented is whether the present proceedings are barred by N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.10, which reads in part as follows:
No landlord of premises or units to which this act is applicable shall serve a notice to quit upon any tenant or institute any action against a tenant to recover possession of premises, whether by summary dispossess proceeding, civil action for the possession of land, or otherwise:
a. As a reprisal for the tenant's efforts to secure or enforce any rights under the lease or contract, or under the laws of the State of New Jersey or its governmental subdivisions, or of the United States; or
b. As a reprisal for the tenant's good faith complaint to a governmental authority of the landlord's alleged violation of any health or safety law, regulation, code or ordinance, or State law or regulation which has as its objective the regulation of premises used for dwelling purposes; or
c. As a reprisal for the tenant's being an organizer of, a member of, or involved in any activities of, any lawful organization; * * *.
The landlord testified that he plans to subdivide the property and sell the houses as two-family units. He has retained an architect, a surveyor, and an attorney to make application for the subdivision. The landlord concedes that much of the work he contemplates can be accomplished with the tenants remaining in occupancy of the premises. However, some of the work he claims will be "very difficult" to have performed while the premises are occupied, and the cost of attempting to do so would be "prohibitive," although admittedly he did not attempt to obtain estimates of such
cost. In this category he plans such work as the installation of the central heating system, replacement of ceilings, and painting and plastering. Furthermore, he points out the difficulty of showing the property to prospective purchasers, and the possibility of damage to new work before F.H.A. inspection and approval in connection with his financing.
Knowing that the court had authority to stay the issuance of the warrants for eviction for a period of six months under N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.6, the landlord testified that he brought the present eviction suit contemplating that his subdivision proceedings, F.H.A. approval and other preliminary proceedings would require a substantial amount of time during which he would not require actual possession of the premises. His plan is to "coordinate" the eviction proceedings so that when he is ready to proceed with the actual work he can obtain possession. In this connection he states his willingness to permit the tenants to ...