Floral Park Tenants Association (Tenants Association), consisting of the tenants presently residing in Floral Park Gardens (Floral Park),*fn1 filed a verified complaint and order to show cause with this court wherein the Tenants Association sought, among other things, to enjoin and restrain defendant Project Holding, Inc. (Project Holding), landlord and owner of Floral Park, from interfering with the tenants' beneficial right to use and enjoy these premises. Project Holding commenced an action by way of a complaint and an order to show cause in the Law Division seeking a declaratory judgment that members of the Tenants Association who are presently residing in Floral Park must temporarily vacate the premises during a period of substantial renovation and that N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 et seq. (the Anti-Eviction Act) does not bar such temporary vacation. Subsequently, the Law Division action was transferred to the Chancery Division and consolidated with the Floral Park tenants' action.
Before both actions were heard by this court, leave to intervene as a plaintiff was granted to the Action Committee of Floral Park (Action Committee), consisting of tenants who have already temporarily vacated Floral Park and are awaiting to move back as soon as said premises are renovated by Project Holding.
The matter now before the court arises on cross-motions for summary judgment filed respectively by Project Holding and the Tenants Association. Project Holding sets forth several alternate legal theories for a judgment directing the tenants to vacate Floral Park temporarily or a judgment for possession. The Tenants Association contends that the Anti-Eviction Act bars this relief and that a judgment should be entered in its favor.
The undisputed facts are as follows. Project Holding is the record owner of Floral Park. The Tenants Association
presently includes the remaining tenants in ten buildings on the premises, being approximately 70 families in number. Project Holding is affiliated with a group known as Applied Housing Associates (Applied Housing) which specializes in urban housing rehabilitation. Project Holding, through Applied Housing, submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a "Feasibility Application" and preliminary proposals for rehabilitation of the subject buildings. The plan was approved by HUD. It provides for those of low and moderate income to receive rental assistance to meet the higher rent resulting from rehabilitation and proper operations. HUD did agree to insure a mortgage loan to the owner from a HUD-approved mortgagee. The approved plan permits the tenants to return to the premises after relocation whether the new federally controlled rent is paid entirely by them or partly by rental assistance. Additionally, municipal approval was granted in the form of a resolution of the Township of North Bergen declaring the subject premises blighted and in need of redevelopment.
As early as June 1976 Applied Housing, on behalf of Project Holding, commenced a program of notification and education of the Floral Park tenants looking towards the goal of temporary relocation, essentially at Project Holding's expense, and an ultimate opportunity to move back into the project after the completion of the rehabilitation work. Project Holding offered reimbursement for moving expenses to decent comparable housing and a relocation benefit of $40 a month for any rent differential plus reimbursement for moving expenses back to the subject premises for those tenants who chose to return.
A substantial number of tenants agreed to and did in fact relocate, temporarily or otherwise. Only 75 of the 374 units are still occupied. The remainder of the units have been vacated by the tenants voluntarily. Five of these remaining families have agreed to vacate the premises voluntarily in
the next few weeks. Accordingly, only some 70 families make up the Tenants Association which is blocking Project Holding from effecting the HUD-approved plan for rehabilitation of the premises. The remaining tenants are scattered throughout the many structures and in some instances as few as 10% of the apartments in a building are occupied.
The uncontroverted affidavits submitted by Project Holding indicate that years of neglect by prior ownership have left the buildings in a condition where only substantial demolition and renovation work can restore the structures to the status of attractive and desirable living quarters. Some of the units will be gutted and redesigned apartments will be created from the skeletal structure. There will be three and four-bedroom apartments to accommodate the larger families who are presently residing in units having no more than two bedrooms. It appears that this essential and contemplated major rehabilitation work can not reasonably be done with the tenants or their belongings remaining on the premises.
The pleadings and affidavits filed indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Therefore, this matter is ripe for summary judgment. Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield , 17 N.J. 67 (1954).
The court, in determining whether the remaining tenants should be ordered to vacate the premises temporarily, is faced with the apparent conflict between two important state policies. On the one hand, there exists the social legislation embodied in the Anti-Eviction Act aimed at protecting tenants and their right to housing against unreasonable and arbitrary eviction. On the other hand, there exists the public policy underlying numerous state and federal statutes aimed at promoting and expediting low and moderate-income housing because of its critical shortage. It is this latter policy which Project Holding is seeking to further by the HUD-approved project of rehabilitating the Floral Park
complex.*fn2 The Tenants Association seeks to interpose a strict interpretation of the Anti-Eviction Act to prevent the temporary relocation of the tenants from their present apartments and thus effectively defeat this project. The threshold question is ...