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Knight v. City Of Hoboken Rent Leveling & Stabilization Board

July 13, 2000

BRIAN KNIGHT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF HOBOKEN RENT LEVELING & STABILIZATION BOARD AND SERGIO SCIANCALEPORE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
VICTORIA MAZUR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF HOBOKEN RENT LEVELING & STABILIZATION BOARD, BRIGITE CORPORATION AND WALTER SEMS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Before Judges Kestin, Wefing and Steinberg.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kestin, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted: June 7, 2000

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Hudson County.

In separate complaints in lieu of prerogative writs challenging a common element of individual rulings by the City of Hoboken Rent Leveling and Stabilization Board, Brian Knight and Victoria Mazur seek declaratory judgments that Board regulation 18:54(B) is "ultra vires and hence, null and void." The regulation, inter alia, establishes a two- year time limitation governing a tenant's right to receive a refund on rent overcharges determined by the Board to have been made. It provides:

The Rent Leveling Administrator and the Rent Leveling and Stabilization Board shall not hear, consider or adjudicate applications of landlords or tenants which are not filed with the Rent Leveling office within two years of the time that the cause for these actions arises for relief under the following Ordinance provisions:

(a) applications for the establishment of rental rebates as a result of legal rent calculations pursuant to Section 18:54 (A); the limitations period applied under this sub- section shall commence with the date of payment of the initial rent payment by the tenant applying for the rebate determination;

(b) applications for rental surcharges for capital improvements pursuant to Section 18:54 (F); the limitations period applied under this sub-section shall commence with the date of completion of the work for which the application is filed;

(c) applications for rent reductions due to a decline in services, care or maintenance, pursuant to Section 18:54 (H)[.]

The complaints seek remands to the Board to calculate and assess the respective rent overcharges due each plaintiff pursuant to the City's rent control ordinance, irrespective of the time bar contained in the regulation.

The two matters were consolidated and were decided together in the Law Division on cross-motions for summary judgment. After consideration on the papers, the trial court granted defendants' motions and denied plaintiffs' motions, dismissing the complaints for reasons expressed in an oral opinion. Plaintiffs appeal. We hold the regulatory time limitation provision at issue to be invalid, and reverse and remand to the Board for further proceedings in each case.

The issue presented to us, as it was framed for the trial court, is a narrow question of law. What little has been provided by way of factual background is contained primarily in the statements of material facts filed, pursuant to R. 4:46-2, by the Board and Knight's landlord, Sergio Sciancalepore, in connection with the summary judgment motions in the trial court.

As to Knight, the Board determined he had been overcharged $25 per month, but the duration of the overcharge is unclear. Knight has resided in his apartment since October 1991, when he "assumed" his sister's tenancy as she vacated the apartment. He never advised the landlord of the change and paid the rent via money orders bearing only his last name. Sciancalepore did not become aware of the change in occupancy until May 1998. When he discovered the subterfuge, he presented Knight with a new lease providing for an increased rental. Knight's application for a rent calculation followed. The Board determined that, even in those circumstances which had deprived the landlord of an opportunity to apply for vacancy decontrol relief upon the departure of Knight's sister, Knight qualified for an overcharge determination. It declined, however, on the basis of the challenged time bar, to assess a refund or credit for the overcharges. Mazur has resided in her apartment since November 1985. We are unaware of the amount of the overcharge to her, but the record indicates that its duration has been found to be for the entire period of her occupancy. The Board also declined to assess a refund or credit for her benefit because of the regulatory time bar.

The Board and its administrator, the Rent Regulation Officer, were created and empowered by ordinance, Hoboken Municipal Code §§ 155-18 to -23. § 155-19 ...


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