N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, the Anti Eviction Act, contains an exception for "owner-occupied premises." In this case the court must decide whether two separate structures on the same property, one structure occupied by the landlord, the other leased, fall within the parameters of this exception. The applicability of the "owner-occupied premises" exception depends on whether the word "premises" is given the narrow definition of "building" or the broader definition of "land and its appurtenances."
Plaintiff landlord brought this summary dispossess proceeding to remove a tenant from a leasehold situated on the same plot of land as the home in which the landlord resides. Plaintiff's home is a one-family house situated on the front section of the property; the leasehold is an outbuilding, unattached to plaintiff's home, at the rear of the property.
Plaintiff contends that he does not have to prove that the tenant has committed acts which constitute "good cause" for removal under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 because of the "owner-occupied premises" exception to that law. Defendant, on the other hand, contends that the "owner-occupied premises" exception applies only when the landlord and tenant reside in the same building. The relevant section of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 reads:
No lessee or tenant or the assigns, under-tenants or legal representatives of such lessee or tenant may be removed by the county district court or the Superior Court from any house, building, mobile home or land in a mobile home
park or tenement leased for residential purposes, other than owner-occupied premises with not more than two rental units or a hotel, motel or other guest house or part thereof rented to a transient guest or seasonal tenant, except upon establishment of one of the following grounds as good cause . . .
The legislative intent of the Anti-Eviction Act was to limit "the causes for which [tenants] may be evicted and be forced to find new quarters in a market critically short of rental housing." Sabato v. Sabato, 135 N.J. Super. 158, 164 (Law Div.1975); see Statement to Assembly Bill 1586, L. 1974, c. 49 § 2. However, the Legislature realized that in attempting to accomplish this intent there would be times when strict compliance with it would lead to injustices. Recognizing the unfairness of forcing resident landlords to live with tenants whom they found to be unfavorable, the legislators added the "owner-occupied premises" exception to the act.
While this is a case of first impression in Essex County, an identical case has been decided in Bergen County. In Reggiori v. Petrone, 184 N.J. Super. 240 (Cty.D.Ct.1982), the court ruled "that the 'owner-occupied premises' exception applies only to landlords and tenants who reside under the same roof, and does not include separate dwellings on the same tract of land." Id. at 243. The court reasoned that since the legislative intent of the Anti-Eviction Act was to limit evictions "the intent of the Legislature [would] most effectively be accomplished by giving the word 'premises' as used in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 a more narrow meaning, i.e., 'building.'" Id. at 243.
The Essex County District Court is not bound by a decision of the Bergen County District Court. State v. Patfol, 71 N.J. Super. 404 (Law Div.1961), rev. on other grounds 76 N.J. Super. 287 (App.Div.1962), rearg. den. 76 N.J. Super. 572 (App.Div.1962). Therefore, this court respectfully declines to follow the decision in Reggiori. It is the opinion of this court that the word "premises" should be given the broad meaning of "land and its appurtenances." Support for this definition can be found in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53 itself, which prior to the enactment of the Anti-Eviction Act covered both residential and commercial
tenancies, and an amended version of which still covers owner-occupied two and three family premises and commercial tenancies. The relevant section of the earlier statute reads:
Any lessee or tenant at will or sufferance, or for a part of a year, or for one or more years, of any houses, buildings, lands or tenements, and the assigns, under-tenants or legal representatives of such tenant or lessee, may be removed from such premises. . ...