This case raises the issue of the proper interpretation of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(c) and whether the tenant of an apartment converted to a condominium who has been given a one-year stay after a judgment of possession is entitled to a second one-year stay where the landlord has failed to offer comparable housing to the tenant during that one year but instead has given hardship relocation compensation to the tenant of a waiver of five months' rent during that period. The matter came before me on order to show cause and this opinion articulates the reasons for my ruling of November 16, 1984, denying the tenant a second one year stay.
In or about May 1979, defendant, Ollen B. Hinnant, rented Unit 215 in Claridge House One, Verona, New Jersey. He currently pays $659.00 a month for his rent-controlled apartment. In December 1979, plaintiff's predecessor in interest gave notice of its intention to convert the premises to condominiums by serving defendant with the requisite notices, including a three-year notice to quit under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(g) and a notice advising defendant of his right to purchase the condominium unit under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.8. Defendant did not choose to purchase his unit but did request comparable housing
in accordance with N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(a). In or about June 1983, plaintiff brought a dispossess action against him pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(k), which permits eviction of tenants from rented residential premises converted to condominiums.
After hearing the dispossess proceedings I entered judgment for possession in favor of plaintiff on September 30, 1983. However, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11, I stayed the issuance of the warrant for eviction for one year from that date because plaintiff had not complied with defendant's earlier request to offer him comparable housing. On or about March 26, 1984, plaintiff notified defendant that in lieu of providing such housing, it had elected to provide defendant with hardship relocation compensation of waiver of payment of five months' rent as permitted by N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(c). Plaintiff also informed defendant that he would be required to vacate the premises by September 30, 1984.
On or about May 29, 1984, defendant notified plaintiff of his intention to seek an additional hardship stay as a result of plaintiff's failure to provide comparable housing. In addition, defendant also tendered a check in the amount of $1,977 representing unpaid rent for April, May and June 1984. Plaintiff refused to accept the check and reiterated its insistence that defendant vacate the premises no later than September 30, 1984.
When a dispossess action is based upon the ground that the building has been converted to a condominium, the landlord must make written demand and give written notice for delivery of possession of the premises three years prior to the institution of the dispossess proceedings. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(g). In addition, sixty days prior to giving the notice to quit and demand for possession, the landlord must serve notice of its intention to convert and advise the tenant of his right to purchase the unit. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.8.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(a) provides that within eighteen months after receipt of a notice to quit and demand for possession, the tenant may request the rental of comparable housing. In such
case the landlord must subsequently offer to the tenant the rental of comparable housing and a reasonable opportunity to examine and rent such housing. Ibid. In any action brought pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(k) the court shall authorize one-year stays of eviction, with reasonable rent increases, until satisfied that adequate offers have been made. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(b). The one-year stay shall be automatically renewed if the landlord fails to prove to the court the making of such offer within the previous year, but no more than five stays shall be granted. Ibid. However, after one such stay has been granted, the court shall not authorize any further stays where the owner has also provided a tenant with hardship relocation compensation of waiver of five months' rent. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11(c).
In the present case plaintiff failed to offer comparable housing to the defendant. Indeed its efforts to locate such housing were feeble at best. Plaintiff subsequently elected to provide defendant with hardship relocation compensation of waiver of payment of five months' rent during the first one-year stay. Plaintiff contends that after the first one-year stay has been granted, the landlord has an election of tendering compensation in lieu of comparable housing. Defendant claims that the Legislature did not create an alternative means for landlords to regain possession after the first stay but requires both a tendering of the comparable housing and "also" the waiver of the five months' rent.
Although there is no case law specifically on point, the mandate of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.11 is clear in providing landlords with an election after the imposition of the first one-year stay to waive payment of five months' rent. Accord Plaza Joint Venture v. City of Atlantic City, 174 N.J. Super. 231 (App.Div.1980). This position is supported by the legislative ...