This summary dispossession action raises the question of whether occupation by a landowner of a portion of premises for solely commercial purposes render the premises "owner-occupied," and thus, not subject to the Good Cause for Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 (also known as the Anti-Eviction Act). The precise question has not been resolved in any reported New Jersey case found by this court.
Plaintiff, Dee Lewis, owns property at 288 Amherst Street, East Orange containing two residential units, one of which is leased to defendant Joyce Traynham. The remainder of the building contains a beauty salon owned by plaintiff. The business is owned solely by her, and employs one part-time employee. The beauty parlor is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. Plaintiff is always present when the business is open.
On February 1, 1989, plaintiff served on defendant a notice to quit the premises and terminate the tenancy, stating that she needed the premises for a member of her family.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(3) provides the following good cause for eviction:
The owner of a building of three residential units or less seeks to personally occupy a unit, or has contracted to sell the residential unit to a buyer who wishes to personally occupy it and the contract for sale calls for the unit to be vacant at the time of closing.
Obviously, the notice to quit did not state a ground under this statutory section, since it refers to occupation by a relative of the owner, but not the owner herself. The notice would have been adequate under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53(a), which permits removal of a tenant without cause, and would apply if the tenancy is not one protected by N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, which, in pertinent part, states:
No lessee or tenant or the assigns, undertenants or legal representatives of such lessee or tenant may be removed by the county district court or the Superior Court from any house, building . . . or tenement leased for residential purposes, other than owner-occupied premises with not more than two rental units . . . except for one of the following grounds as good cause. . . .
If the building qualifies as "owner-occupied" by reason of plaintiff's business operation, then the notice to quit was sufficient and she may terminate defendant's tenancy.
The phrase "owner-occupied" in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 was interpreted in Bradley v. Rapp, 132 N.J. Super. 429 (App.Div.1975). The notice to quit in that case failed to specify the reason for termination of the tenancy. The notice was sent after N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 became effective, but prior to the effective date of subsection (l)(3) of the statute, i.e., February 19, 1976. The reason why the landlord desired eviction of the tenant was to reside there with his own family. The Appellate Division noted that specificity of the cause for termination is required, under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2, in a notice to terminate a tenancy under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, but not in a notice terminating a holdover tenant under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53.
The premises were deemed "owner-occupied," and thus, not subject to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1. The court first recognized that the Good Cause for Eviction Act was intended to protect residential tenants from arbitrary and unfair ouster, especially in view of a critical housing shortage, and primary regard must be given to this fundamental purpose. It then cautioned: "At the same time we should ...