On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Landlord/Tenant, Essex County.
Approved for Publication February 2, 1996.
Before Judges Long, Muir, Jr., and Loftus. The opinion of the court was delivered by Muir, Jr., J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Muir
The opinion of the court was delivered by MUIR, JR., J.A.D.
This is a summary dispossess action to terminate a public housing tenancy on grounds that tenant's son conducted drug-related activity on the leased premises. See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1.p. The trial court ruled the statute imposed strict liability on the tenant for the son's conduct, making need for proof of tenant's actual knowledge of the drug activity irrelevant. It found this interpretation of the statute consonant with substantive due process because defendant, the tenant, would be exempt from eviction if she demonstrated, which she did not in this case, that she had done all that reasonably could be expected to prevent the drug activity on the leased premises. See State v. 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, 98 N.J. 474, 483 (1985).
The tenant appeals from the ensuing judgment. The central focus of the briefs filed by three amici curiae and the parties relates to the trial court's strict liability construction of the statute. A fourth amicus curiae, Legal Services of New Jersey, joins in that issue but also asserts the trial court lacked jurisdiction due to plaintiff Housing Authority's failure to comply with controlling federal requirements governing termination of a public housing tenancy.
We conclude the Housing Authority's noncompliance with controlling federal requirements governing termination of the tenancy deprived the trial court of jurisdiction over the dispossess action. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment under appeal and remand for entry of judgment in favor of the tenant. Our holding precludes the necessity to rule on the trial court's statutory construction.
The essential facts as well as fact findings of the trial court are not disputed. The Housing Authority is a public housing agency subject to the United States Housing Act of 1937, in particular 42 U.S.C.A. § 1437d(k) and (l), and regulations enacted pursuant thereto, in particular 24 C.F.R. § 966 (1995). (At oral argument the Housing Authority conceded it was not an entity governed by Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1437f.) See generally 81 ALR Fed. 844 (1987).
The Housing Authority has leased an apartment to the tenant for the last 15 years. The leases named the tenant's son, Doyle Raindrop, as an allowable resident. See 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(a)(2) (1995).
Law enforcement officials charged Doyle Raindrop, an adult at the time, with the sale of a controlled dangerous substance to an undercover detective, a violation of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1 to -23. The sale allegedly took place on the leased premises on June 21, 1993. The trial court found the tenant had no actual knowledge of the sale.
On July 2, 1993, pursuant to a search warrant, six law enforcement officers entered the leased apartment at 6:15 a.m. The tenant was present. The officers found eighty vials of cocaine, two chunks of crack cocaine, and a scale on a dresser in Doyle Raindrop's room. They also found $719 in a pants' pocket in his room. The police seized the noted items and arrested Doyle. They did not arrest the tenant. The tenant testified she did not recall the seizure of the contraband. Doyle thereafter continued to reside at the apartment and was doing so at the time of the dispossess hearing.
On August 23, 1993, the Housing Authority served the tenant with a "Notice Terminating Lease," which provided in pertinent part as follows:
TO: Carol Raindrop, Tenant
1. PRESENT LEASE: You now rent 222 ...