This case raises issues concerning the constitutionality, interpretation and application of the Senior Citizens and Disabled Protected Tenancy Act (the Act) N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.22 et seq.
Edgewater Investment Associates instituted suit against the Borough of Edgewater (Borough) and a group of tenants residing in the Hudson Harbour apartment complex. It seeks alternative relief declaring that the Act is unconstitutional, it did not apply to its condominium and the tenants did not qualify for protected tenancy status. The case proceeded in three phases:
1) On cross motions for summary judgment, the retroactive portion of the Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(d)(1) & (2), was held constitutional and not violative of the impairment of contract or taking clauses of the United States Constitution.
2) On cross motions for summary judgment, protected tenancy status was denied to five tenants (Martin Connett, Macklin D. Rosen, Eva and Louis Sharpe, Beatrice and Earle Freeman, and Theodore Varvisotis). Four denials were based upon findings that each tenant's "annual household income" was in excess of the statutory criteria and one denial was based upon failure to meet the age qualification. Protected tenancy status was granted to five tenants (Hazel Grob, Elizabeth Garbarini, Anita Brown, Harriet Whitman and Morton Lesser) on the ground that they met all of the statutory criteria.
3) A plenary hearing was held on the protected tenancy status applications of Marjorie and Walter Cohen and Sigmund Schwartz. Schwartz' application was denied because his "annual household income" exceeded the statutory criteria; the Cohens' application was denied because it was not filed within a reasonable period of time and was deemed not in compliance with N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.25, 27 & 28 as applied to the facts of this case.
The apartment building in issue is a garden apartment complex known as Hudson Harbour Condominiums located at 1203 River Road, Edgewater, New Jersey. It consists of 251 dwelling units and was constructed in 1967. Hudson Harbour Associates purchased the complex in October 1980 and filed a condominium offering plan which was approved by the Department of Community Affairs on January 5, 1981. The premises was registered for conversion and notice of intention to convert to a condominium was served upon the tenants on January 12, 1981. On April 3, 1981 a three months' notice to quit and demand for possession was served on all tenants in accordance with the provisions of the then existing Anti-Eviction Act.
The Senior Citizens and Disabled Protected Tenancy Act became effective on July 27, 1981. The Department of Community Affairs then directed Hudson Harbour to serve all prospective purchasers and all existing tenants in the apartment complex with the notice of protected tenancy status called for by N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.27. Hudson Harbour complied by mailings of October 5, 1981. It also amended its public offering statement to include warnings to prospective purchasers that protected
tenancy status could be granted to existing tenants for an additional forty years. On January 19, 1982 Edgewater Investment Associates acquired the units which are the subject matter of this litigation from Hudson Harbour Associates.
The most controversial portion of the Act is the retroactive provision appearing in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(d)(1) & (2). It affords our courts discretionary authority to grant protected tenancy status to qualified senior citizens or disabled persons if the court determines that the tenant is qualified. In pertinent part it provides:
(1) The tenant would otherwise qualify as a senior citizen tenant or disabled tenant pursuant to that amendatory and supplementary act, except that the building or structure in which the dwelling unit is located was converted prior to the effective date of that amendatory and supplementary act; and
(2) The granting of the protected tenancy period as applied to the tenant, giving particular consideration to whether a unit was sold on or before the date that the amendatory and supplementary act takes effect to a bona fide individual purchaser who intended personally to occupy the unit, would not be violative of concepts of fundamental fairness or due process. Where a court declines to grant a protected tenancy status, it shall nevertheless order such hardships stays as authorized by subsections a. and b. of this section until comparable relocation housing is provided. The hardship relocation compensation alternative of subsection c. of this section shall not be applicable in this situation.
If protected tenancy status is granted, the tenant may remain in his apartment for an additional forty years. If not granted, the court may still authorize up to five one-year stays of eviction until the landlord furnishes comparable housing. However, unlike the provisions of the pre-existing Anti-Eviction Act, the landlord may not utilize the five month compensation buy-out provision of that Act. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(c).
The Act grants "protected tenancy status" to senior and disabled citizens who were "at least 62 years of age on the date
of the conversion recording." N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.24(a). The tenant seeking protected tenancy status must apply "on or before the date of registration of conversion by the Department of Community Affairs," have an "annual household income" that does not exceed an amount equal to three times the county per capita personal income and have ...