The opinion of the court was delivered by: LIFLAND
Currently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment as to the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(n), the New Jersey "Anti-Eviction Act."
Under the act, a tenant's conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia entitles a residential landlord to regain summarily possession of his property. Plaintiff, who has twice plead guilty to possession of such paraphernalia, contends that termination of his tenancy will violate his rights guaranteed by the Double Jeopardy Clause, the Excessive Fines Clause, and the Due Process Clause.
For the reasons articulated below, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment and denies Taylor's.
Since 1988, Silas Taylor has resided by himself as a tenant in an apartment owned by the Bayonne Housing Authority. Stip. at P1. The apartment, located at 44 East 50th Street, is part of a low-income housing project owned and operated by the Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority of Bayonne (hereinafter "Authority" or "defendant"). The Authority is a public body created pursuant to state statute, its commissioners are appointed by state and local officials and it receives governmental funding to provide affordable housing to low income households. Id. at P2.
Taylor is 38 years old, hearing and speech impaired, with a monthly social security grant of $ 497 representing his sole income. T31: 1-21.
The fair market rent of plaintiff's apartment is $ 706, although his monthly rent is only $ 125. Stip. at PP5-6. Given his low income, if Taylor is evicted he will likely end up on the streets since market-rate housing is unaffordable. T39:14-20. His parents live nearby, but the record suggests they would not have room for him.
On October 20, 1992, defendant plead guilty to the charge of possession of narcotics paraphernalia in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1 et seq.5 The offense occurred on premises owned by the Authority located at 38 East 50th Street. Stip. PP7-8. On February 3, 1994, a judgment of conviction was again entered in Bayonne Municipal Court adjudicating Taylor guilty of possession of narcotics paraphernalia in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1 et seq. This offense occurred on premises located next to property owned by the Authority at 53rd Street and Kennedy Boulevard, in Bayonne. Id. at PP9-10. There is no allegation that Taylor actually possessed drugs, or engaged in distribution of contraband.
Given the aforementioned convictions, on November 29, 1994, the Authority served plaintiff with a notice terminating his tenancy. Id., Ex. B. The notice explained that termination was premised upon the tenant's breach of Authority regulations and upon N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(n). Taylor has not vacated his unit, but instead filed the instant § 1983 suit against the Authority. In the meantime, the Authority initiated summary dispossession proceedings in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil Part. The state court stayed the dispossession action pending this Court's resolution of Taylor's constitutional challenge. Id. at P11.
New Jersey Landlord/Tenant Law
Since 1974, New Jersey has limited summary evictions from most residential housing to instances where the landlord can demonstrate "good cause." Absent one of the good causes enumerated in the "Anti-Eviction Act," N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, the Housing Court may not evict a tenant, and a landlord must resort to the traditional, and more cumbersome, common law ejectment action. The statute, which dramatically altered the complexion of landlord/tenant law, is considered remedial legislation designed to address the serious housing shortage that has plagued New Jersey. See A.P. Development v. Band, 113 N.J. 485, 492, 550 A.2d 1220 (1988).
In 1990, the New Jersey Legislature amended the Act by adding several new grounds for eviction. Among those is subsection "n", which provides, in relevant part, that good cause for eviction exists if:
The person has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to, or if a juvenile, has been adjudicated delinquent on the basis of an act which if committed by an adult would constitute an offense under the "Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987," N.J.S. 2C:35-1 et al. involving the use, possession, manufacture, dispensing or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, controlled dangerous substance analog or drug paraphernalia within the meaning of that act within or upon the leased premises or the building or complex of buildings and land appurtenant thereto, or the mobile home park, in which those premises are located, and has not in connection with his sentence for that offense either (1) successfully completed or (2) been admitted to and continued upon probation while completing, a drug rehabilitation program pursuant to N.J.S. 2C:35-14....
Both parties agree that Taylor's February 1994 conviction
for possession of drug paraphernalia constitutes good cause under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(n), and subjects him to eviction unless such action would contravene plaintiff's constitutional rights.
The question before us is appropriate for summary judgment since the parties stipulate to the facts, thereby eliminating any genuine issues of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."). While this simplifies the task, our inquiry is hampered somewhat by the absence of legislative history that could afford a definite sense of what the New Jersey Legislature intended when it added subsection "n" to the Anti-Eviction Act in 1990. The State's brief,
buttressed by common sense and some decisional law, argues that the revision was a remedial measure designed to protect tenants from the scourge of drugs and drug-related violence. See Housing Authority of Newark v. Smith, 264 N.J. Super. 200, 204, 624 A.2d 95 (Law Div. 1992) ("The statement by the Assembly Judiciary, Law and Public Safety Committee did not address the substantive change through the addition of these subsections [n, o, and p]. However, it is clear that these subsections were added as much for the protection of other tenants as for the benefit of landlords."). Taylor responds that the law effectuates no remedial goal, or, at ...