On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil Part, Essex County.
Dreier and Shebell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Dreier, J.A.D.
[201 NJSuper Page 3] Defendants appeal from a decision of the Special Civil Part enforcing a "no pets" provision in defendants' renewal leases. Defendants had been tenants in plaintiff's apartments prior to
his acquiring title. Their earlier leases did not prohibit pets, but upon renewal after plaintiff's purchase, the leases contained a new "no pets" provision.
At issue before us is whether under the facts of this case the "no pets" provision should be sustained. The trial judge found herself bound by Terhune Courts v. Sgambati, 163 N.J. Super. 218 (Cty.D.Ct.1978), aff'd o.b. 170 N.J. Super. 477 (App.Div.1979), certif. den. 84 N.J. 418 (1980), and upheld plaintiff's right to dispossess defendants unless they removed their dogs.
At the time of the trial in 1982 defendant Possumato had been residing in the premises with her daughter, now a teenager, for six years and had brought her dog with her when she moved in. She had owned the dog four years at that time, and thus the dog must now be 12 to 13 years old. The wife of defendant Savinon had lived in their apartment for only a year at the time of trial, but had owned the dog for some time prior to moving into the apartment. The dog is now between 12 and 13 years old. The dog is her constant companion and her attachment to the animal is also partially due to the fact that it had belonged to her sister until her sister's death. The third defendant, Mrs. Brosonski, first lived in the apartment in 1973, and as of the time of trial had lived there for 8 of the past 9 years. Her dog also is between 13 and 14 years old. The dogs are respectively a German shepard, a Scottish terrier and a Chihuahua.
Testimony established that the premises are located near warehouses, which are unoccupied at night, and that there are bars in the area. People are known to "hang out" around the building at night; drunks often throw beer bottles or fight at night in the alleyway near the premises, waking up the tenants; the tenants have also experienced attempted break-ins. The entrance door to the building has been forced open, and one year prior to the trial a man had been stabbed to death in the building. Both the defendants and other tenants testified that the presence of the dogs make all of the tenants feel safer, since they give warning when strangers approach.
Prior to plaintiff's purchase of the building, the landlord imposed no condition prohibiting pets, and defendants all moved in with their pets with knowledge of former landlord's policy. In December 1981 when plaintiff purchased the premises he was aware that five animals were maintained in the twelve unit apartment house.*fn1 Plaintiff, who is afraid of dogs, admits purchasing the premises with the intention of forcing the tenants either to get rid of their pets or move.
None of the dogs belonging to the defendants has been the subject of any but the most minor complaint by another tenant or by the prior or present landlord. None of the dogs is permitted out of its apartment unattended.
At the trial defendants presented testimony by Dr. Aaron Katcher, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a specialist concerning the influence of companion animals on the mental and physical health of their owners. His testimony established that the loss of their pets to people such as defendants would cause significant health problems, especially if the loss is due to a defendant being forced to give up his or her pet as opposed to the pet's dying a natural death. Defendants could be expected to suffer grief and depression as great as that suffered at the loss of a family member and, in addition, suffer from a sense of guilt and loss of self-esteem. On a positive note, the witness testified to studies showing that the presence of a pet lowers blood pressure, decreases anxiety, combats depression and generally increases the owner's health. In fact, the presence of pets generally lowers the rate of mortality. As to Mrs. Savinon, and defendants Possumato and Brosonski, Dr. Katcher testified that one would be increasingly unwilling to leave her home, another
would suffer a worsening in her cardiovascular system and increased hypertension and the third would experience severe grief, especially since this woman would not only grieve for the loss of her dog but suffer a reawakened grief for the loss of her sister, the dog's former owner. He expected that if these women were ...