On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Passaic County, Docket No. LT-6850-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes and Graves.
Defendant Maria Hernandez appeals from the judgment of possession entered by the Special Civil Part terminating her tenancy in the third floor apartment of a three-family building located in the City of Passaic. Plaintiff's complaint alleged two separate grounds for terminating defendant's tenancy:
plaintiff intended to personally occupy defendant's apartment, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(3); and non-payment of rent, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(a).
At trial, defendant asserted three separate defenses to the action: (1) plaintiff had not produced proof of compliance with the registration requirements of N.J.S.A. 46:8-29;*fn1 (2) the action constituted a retaliatory eviction under N.J.S.A. 2A:42- 10.10; and (3) the non-payment of rent count in the complaint vitiated the termination notice required to proceed under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(3).
After reviewing the record, and in light of prevailing legal standards, we reverse. We are satisfied that the trial court erred in its analysis of defendant's retaliation defense. Thus, because there are sufficient grounds to reverse on retaliation, we need not, and specifically do not reach the other arguments advanced by defendant.
N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.10 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
No landlord of premises or units to which this act is applicable shall serve a notice to quit upon any tenant or institute any action against a tenant to recover possession of premises, whether by summary dispossess proceedings, civil action for the possession of land, or otherwise:
a. As a reprisal for the tenant's efforts to secure or enforce any rights under the lease or contract, or under the laws of the State of New Jersey or its governmental subdivisions, or of the United States; or
b. As a reprisal for the tenant's good faith complaint to a governmental authority of the landlord's alleged violation of any health or safety law, regulation, code or ordinance, or State law or regulation which has as its objective the regulation of premises used for dwelling purposes;
Furthermore, N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.12a, creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if a landlord institutes an action against a tenant, or serves that tenant with a notice to quit, after the tenant "attempts to secure or enforce any rights . . . under the laws of the State of New Jersey, or its governmental subdivisions."
Here, defendant argues that plaintiff's complaint was in retaliation for her refusal to accept an increase in her monthly rent, which violated the maximum rent permitted under the municipal rent control ordinance. Defendant offers no direct evidence in support of her claim. She argues that the trial court should have inferred plaintiff's retaliatory intent based on the fact that plaintiff's complaint quickly followed defendant's refusal of the improper increase. According to ...