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Veltri v. Norwood

Decided: August 10, 1984.


Bischoff, Petrella and Brody. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.


[195 NJSuper Page 407] The question posed on this appeal is whether a post-conversion tenant, living in a condominium unit owned by the owners of more than three but not all the units in the building, may be

evicted when the owners enter into a contract to sell the unit to someone who will occupy it. The trial judge held that under the Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 et seq., the tenant has the same protection against eviction as a residential tenant in a multi-unit building that is not a condominium. We reverse and hold that the tenant may be evicted on two-months' notice under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(1) and N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(f).

Hudson Harbour Condominium was created by the recording of a master deed in May 1981. A year later plaintiffs, owners of more than three but less than all residential units in the Hudson Harbour building, rented a unit to defendant under a one-year written lease. After the term expired on April 30, 1983, defendant held over as a month-to-month tenant. Before the end of May 1983, plaintiffs sent defendant a written notice that the unit had been "sold to a buyer who seeks to personally occupy it." Demand was made for possession "on or before July 31, 1983." When defendant refused to vacate, plaintiffs brought this action for possession.

N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(f) requires that a month-to-month tenant be given only two-months' notice prior to institution of an action for possession based on reasons set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(1) (subparagraph (l)(1)) which reads in pertinent part as follows:

The owner of a building . . . being converted to a condominium . . . seeks to evict a tenant . . . whose initial tenancy began after the master deed . . . was recorded, because the owner has contracted to sell the unit to a buyer who seeks to personally occupy it and the contract for sale calls for the unit to be vacant at the time of closing.*fn1

The trial judge denied plaintiffs possession because they "own less than the whole building which is being converted to condominium ownership."

Before considering the language of subparagraph (l)(1), it is necessary to understand that the Anti-Eviction Act assures an owner the right to evict the tenant of a condominium unit whenever he sells the unit to someone who will occupy it.*fn2 The only question in such a case is whether the tenant is entitled to the substantial rights of a pre-conversion tenant or the minimal rights of a post-conversion tenant or a tenant in a building having only three or fewer residential units. In the former case, those rights include three-years' notice under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(k) (paragraph (k)) and N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(g); in the latter, they include only two-months' notice under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l) (paragraph (l)) and N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(f). See Kabakian v. Kobert, 188 N.J. Super. 517, 520 (App.Div.1983). The trial judge's conclusion that plaintiffs may not evict under either paragraphs (k) or (l) is not an available option. We must interpret the language of those paragraphs to accommodate the overall legislative design of replacing tenants in condominium units with owner-occupiers. See New Capital Bar & Grill Corp. v. Div. of Employment Sec., 25 N.J. 155, 160 (1957); Bradley v. Rapp, 132 N.J. Super. 429, 433 (App.Div.1975), certif. den. 68 N.J. 149 (1975).

The problem at hand results from a collision between two distinct legislative goals. By its enactment in 1970 of the Condominium Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8B-1 et seq., the Legislature hoped to bring ownership of a one-family dwelling within the reach of middle-income people who can no longer afford a detached one-family dwelling. See AMN, Inc. v. So. Bruns. Tp. Rent Leveling Bd., 93 N.J. 518, 529-530 (1983). By its enactment

in 1974 of the Anti-Eviction Act, the Legislature intended to protect residential tenants from eviction except for specifically enumerated good cause grounds. The collision occurs when someone wants to buy a condominium unit for occupancy that is already occupied by a tenant.

As originally enacted, the Anti-Eviction Act afforded little protection to a tenant in such a situation because N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(h) (paragraph (h)) permitted the owner to evict when he "seeks to retire permanently the building . . . from the rental housing market." The owner needed to give the tenant only six-months' notice. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(d). In order to alleviate the plight of tenants in buildings built as or converting to a condominium, the Legislature enacted an amendment to the Anti-Eviction Act (the 1975 Amendment), L. 1975, c. 311, that added paragraphs (k) and (l).*fn3 Paragraph (k) gives three-years' notice ...

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