On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, LT-12443-00.
Before Judges Skillman, Wallace, Jr. and Carchman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carchman, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 23, 2001
This appeal requires us to consider whether N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(2) (subsection 2) of the Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 to -61.12 (the Act), requires the owner of less than three condominium units to provide three years notice to evict a tenant upon sale of the unit absent a formal lease notice provision as required by N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.9 (section 61.9). The trial judge, relying in part on N.J.A.C. 5:24-1.9, held that the notice provision, clearly applicable to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(1) (subsection 1), applied with equal force to subsection 2, and dismissed plaintiff 224 Jefferson Street Condominium Association's (the Association) tenancy complaint. He further concluded that absent compliance with section 61.9, the court was without jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's dispossession action. We disagree and conclude that the notice provisions of section 61.9 do not create a jurisdictional bar to actions prosecuted under subsection 2. Accordingly, we reverse and remand the matter to the Special Civil Part.
These are the facts adduced at trial. Plaintiff owns two condominiums units in an eight-unit building located in Hoboken. The condominium conversion of the eight units was effectuated by the filing of a master deed in the Hudson County Register's Office in July 1986. Thereafter, the two units were conveyed to plaintiff. Plaintiff entered into a written month-to-month lease agreement with defendant Emanuel G. Paige, Sr. in October 1998. Although defendant resided in the apartment with his grandmother for an extended period of time, both parties agree that defendant is a post-conversion tenant. The penultimate provision of the lease agreement states:
31. Landlord shall provide Tenant with a sixty (60) day notice to quit pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18- 61.1(l)(2) because the owner has contracted to sell the Unit to a buyer who wishes to personally occupy it and the Contract of Sale calls for the Unit to be vacant at the time of closing.
On March 2, 2000, plaintiff entered into a contract of sale for the unit, which was later amended to include plaintiff's obligation to serve a sixty-day notice on defendant because of the buyer's desire to personally occupy the premises. Nine days later, on March 31, 2000, Michael Van Hagan, a member of the Association, served defendant with a sixty-day Notice to Quit, terminating defendant's tenancy as of June 1, 2000. On June 1, 2000, defendant refused to vacate the premises.
Plaintiff then instituted a tenancy action in the Special Civil Part seeking possession of the unit. The trial judge concluded that defendant was entitled to three years notice prior to commencement of the tenancy action, and such requirement was jurisdictional. He then dismissed the complaint.
On appeal, plaintiff asserts that under the facts presented before the trial judge, a sixty-day notice to quit under subsection 2 was required rather than three years notice. We commence our analysis by reviewing the relevant statutory provisions. The Act was adopted in 1974 in "recognition of the severe housing shortage in the state." A.P. Dev. Corp. v. Band, 113 N.J. 485, 492 (1988). The Act affords "residential tenants the right, absent good cause for eviction, to continue to live in their homes without fear of eviction . . . and thereby to protect them from involuntary displacement." Morristown Mem'l Hosp. v. Wokem Mortgage & Realty Co., 192 N.J. Super. 182, 186 (App. Div. 1983).
The Act reflects a public policy barring dispossess actions except upon strict compliance with the notice and procedural requirements of the Act. Montgomery Gateway East I v. Herrera, 261 N.J. Super. 235, 241 (App. Div. 1992); Bayside Condos., Inc. v. Mahoney, 254 N.J. Super. 323, 325 (App. Div. 1992). We have defined "strict compliance" as "punctilious" compliance with all of the Act's provisions, including the notice provisions. Weise v. Dover Gen. Hosp., 257 N.J. Super. 499, 504 (App. Div. 1992) (citations omitted). We have required strict compliance even though the landlord has acted in good faith or the tenant has not been prejudiced. Ibid. As we previously observed, "the statute leaves no latitude for a judicial construction which excuses failure to give the specified notice." Vander Sterre Bros. Constr. v. Keating, 284 N.J. Super. 433, 438 (App. Div. 1995). In sum, absent strict compliance with the requirements of the Act, a court is without jurisdiction to entertain a summary dispossession action. Bayside, supra, 254 N.J. Super. at 326-27; 809-811 Washington St. Assocs. v. Grego, 253 N.J. Super. 34, 42 (App. Div. 1992) (noting that compliance with the Act is jurisdictional prerequisite to the institution of a summary dispossess action).
Against this framework, we now examine the provisions at issue here. The Act assures a condominium owner the right to evict a tenant whenever the owner sells the unit to a buyer who will personally occupy it. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l). The operative provisions of the Act establish varying notice requirements dependent upon the type of tenancy, post-conversion or pre-conversion, the number of units owned by a landlord in a building, and the number of units in that building.
The Act provides greater protection to pre-conversion tenants in buildings with more than three units by requiring three years notice before removal. See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(g) (providing for a three-year notice requirement for removal of pre-conversion tenants protected by N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(k)). The provision before us, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l), applying to post- conversion tenants, establishes a two month notice requirement. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(f); Kabakian v. Kobert, 188 N.J. Super. 517, 520 (App. Div. 1983). As the parties have stipulated that defendant is a post-conversion tenant, paragraph (l) of section 2A:18-61.1 is the focus of our inquiry.
Paragraph (l) applies to all post-conversion evictions where an owner has contracted to sell the unit to a buyer who wishes to personally occupy it, and the contract for sale calls for the unit to be vacant at the time of closing. The ...