On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Hudson County
[250 NJSuper Page 379] Defendant Cathy Cardillo (the tenant) appeals from the entry of a judgment resulting from a summary dispossession action in the Law Division, Special Civil Part in which plaintiff Wayne Chau (the landlord) was granted a judgment for possession but conditioned the warrant for removal upon defendant's payment of rent arrears in the amount of $3,346. The court also ordered that, commencing April 1, 1990, the defendant's monthly rent would be $475 as established by the Hoboken Rent Leveling Board (Board). However, the order was entered without prejudice to the position either party may advocate in connection with an appeal that plaintiff had filed with the Board.
On this appeal defendant claims that the trial judge lacked jurisdiction to enter the judgment because at the time the dispossess action was filed she did not owe rent to the plaintiff landlord and further claims that the equitable considerations which formed the basis for the relief granted to the landlord also exceeded its jurisdiction. Plaintiff, in his appellate brief acknowledges that the trial judge granted him equitable relief but argues that the judge did not abuse his discretion in ordering defendant to continue to pay rent pending disposition of the plaintiff's appeal before the Board. For the reasons stated herein we reverse the judgment under review and vacate the judgment of possession. The matter is remanded to the trial court solely for the disposition of defendant's payment into court.
Plaintiff purchased premises known as 910 Garden Street, Hoboken, New Jersey in May, 1988. The building contains four residential units. At the time of purchase, and since 1982, defendant was an oral month to month tenant residing in one of the units.
On March 22, 1988, while the building was owned by plaintiff's predecessor in title, George Lee, defendant filed an application to the Board seeking a calculation of the legal applicable rent for her apartment. It is not clear from the record whether plaintiff was aware of the pending appeal when he took title to the property. The record reflects that the landlord/tenant relationship between plaintiff and defendant began on June 1, 1988. The monthly rental at that time was $623. Defendant continued making monthly rental payments in that amount through March, 1989.
It appears that on or about May 8, 1989 the Board issued an interim adjustment of the rental downward to $524 per month for the period of June, 1988 to February, 1989 and $543 per month commencing in March, 1989. Section 18:54(B) of the Rent Levelling Ordinance provides that:
Any rent increases imposed after January 11, 1973 the date of expiration of Federal rent controls, to the extent that such increase(s) is in excess of that which this is an amendment, it is hereby declared to be null and void and such excess rent shall be refunded or credited to the tenant by the landlord forthwith.
Apparently, in response to the Board's action and relying on the provisions of the ordinance, defendant wrote to plaintiff and advised him that she was making a rental payment in the amount of $115 for the months of April and May, 1989 because of the credit due to her by reason of rent overpayment for the prior ten months. Thereafter, from June 1, 1989 through October 1, 1989 defendant made payments to the plaintiff in the amount of $543 per month.
On October 30, 1989, in a letter addressed to plaintiff and defendant, the Board issued a final determination of the legal rent for the apartment in question. The legal rent for the apartment was determined as of that date to be $475 per month. The calculation of overcharge for rental received from December 1, 1982 when defendant first went into possession of the apartment through October, 1989 was $18,249. The Board attached to the letter a "GRID TO CALCULATE LEGAL RENT OF CONTROLLED UNIT". That grid, apparently completed by the Board, indicated that while plaintiff owned the property the legal rent pursuant to the ordinance should have been as follows: from June 1, 1988 through December 31, 1988 -- $418 per month; from November 1, 1988 through January 31, 1989 -- $421 per month; from February 1, 1989 through February 28, 1989 -- $438 per month; and from March 1, 1989 through October 31, 1989 -- $475 per month. Defendant, pursuant to the ordinance, sought credit from the landlord for her overpayment of rent and ceased making rental payments commencing on November 1, 1989.
Plaintiff filed an appeal of the Board's decision in ...