On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Hudson County.
Gaulkin, R.s. Cohen and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Cohen, R.s., J.A.D.
This is a summary dispossess action, brought and tried in the Special Civil Part of the Law Division pursuant to the Anti-Eviction Act. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 to 61.12. See 447 Associates v. Miranda, 115 N.J. 522, 559 A.2d 1362 (1989). The court dismissed the complaint at the end of plaintiff's case, on the thesis that the statutory good-cause ground for eviction invoked by plaintiff no longer existed. We reverse, because the reason for dismissal was incorrect, and we remand for a new trial.
Plaintiff's trial evidence showed that he owned a six-unit apartment house in North Bergen, and that defendant rented and
occupied first-floor apartment # 2. There were seven electric meters in the house, one for each apartment and one for the common area lights. Each tenant paid for his or her apartment's meter charges, and the landlord paid for the common areas. His monthly bills were modest.
Plaintiff noticed a sudden and dramatic rise in his electric bills. Investigation revealed that holes had been drilled in the floor of defendant's apartment, and that wires had been run to basement outlets which were connected to plaintiff's meter. Defendant blamed it on her children (who ranged up to twenty years old). Public Service had earlier threatened to cut off service to defendant's apartment for nonpayment.
Plaintiff detached the unauthorized wires from the basement outlets, but they were somehow reconnected. It was "a cat and mouse game." He then closed off the basement areas that gave access to the electrical service. It is unclear whether plaintiff repaired the holes in defendant's floor.
The Judge's decision to dismiss the complaint was grounded in his view that if the condition for which eviction is sought is no longer present at the time of the Suit for Dispossession, a complaint must be dismissed.
For this proposition, the Judge relied on his opinion in Jijon v. Custodio, 251 N.J. Super. 370, 598 A.2d 251 (Law Div.1991). There, the written lease restricted occupancy to the two named tenants. Nevertheless, two additional adult males lived there. The proper notice to cease was served on the tenants in July 1990. A notice to quit was served in September 1990, terminating the tenancy as of November 1. The dispossess action was filed thereafter. The two adult males left the apartment -- it is unclear when, but probably after the complaint was filed -- and only the tenants lived there at the time of trial. The Judge held:
When a landlord seeks to dispossess a tenant because of a transgression of the terms of a lease, the tenant must be given an opportunity to correct the complained of condition. It should not make any difference when the situation is corrected -- before institution of legal action or after.
Once the alleged violation of the terms of a lease has been abated, the landlord loses his ...