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Long Branch Housing Authority v. Villano

October 10, 2007

LONG BRANCH HOUSING AUTHORITY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TONI VILLANO, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. LT-1709-06.

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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued September 11, 2007

Before Judges Skillman*fn1, Yannotti and LeWinn.

The Long Branch Housing Authority (Authority) appeals from a judgment entered on June 1, 2006, which denied the Authority's application to evict defendant Toni Villano from one of its residential housing units and entered a judgment of no cause for action against the Authority. We reverse.

In or about July 2000, the Authority entered into an agreement with defendant for the lease of a residential unit in the Woodrow Wilson Homes in Long Branch. The lease provides in pertinent part that the tenant shall be obligated:

[t]o assure that Tenant, any member of the household, a guest, or other person under Tenant's control, shall not engage in:

(1) Any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the Authority's public housing premises by other residents or employees of the Authority, or:

(2) Any drug-related criminal activity. Any criminal activity in violation of the preceding sentence shall cause termination of the tenancy, and eviction from the unit. (For the purposes of this lease, the term drug-related criminal activity means the illegal possession, manufacture, sale, distribution, use or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, distribute, or use, of a controlled substance as defined by Section 102 of the Controlled Substance Act.) . . .

(3) In conjunction with drug-related activity, the tenant shall comply with a "Zero Tolerance" policy on drug use. In accordance with New Jersey Law, a criminal conviction is not necessary to effectuate the eviction. Rather in the civil (eviction) the Complainant Housing Authority will need to satisfy a [lesser] standard of proof than would be required in a criminal case.

At or about the time she applied for the lease, defendant was provided with a copy of the Authority's "One Strike and You're Out" policy. The policy indicates that the Authority would screen out and deny admission to applicants for various reasons, including a "recent history of criminal activity involving crimes to persons or property and/or criminal acts that affect the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents." Admission would also be denied to a person who illegally uses a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). The policy states, however, that the Authority may grant admission if the applicant no longer uses a CDS provided the applicant presents proof of the successful completion of a treatment or rehabilitation program and has remained drug-free for at least one year after completing the program.

The policy further provides that the Authority will not tolerate any drug-related criminal activity on its property. The term "drug related criminal activity" is defined to mean "the illegal manufacture, sale, distribution, use, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, distribute, or use a controlled substance." The policy additionally states that the Authority will terminate the lease of any resident if it determines that the tenant is "illegally using a controlled substance"; engages in drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises; or engages "in any activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents."

On January 24, 2006, the Authority served upon defendant a notice to quit and a demand for possession of the leased premises. The notice stated that the lease was being terminated as of March 1, 2006. In the notice, the Authority alleged, among other things, that defendant, her co-tenants and guests had engaged in the illegal use/possession and/or distribution of a CDS. Defendant did not vacate the premises on March 1, 2006, and the Authority thereafter commenced an action in the Special Civil Part seeking a judgment of possession and defendant's removal from the premises.

At the trial, the Authority presented testimony from Lieutenant Lyndon B. Johnson (Johnson) of the Long Branch Police Department (LBPD). Johnson testified that he has had training in narcotics and has participated in more than 500 drug-related arrests in Long Branch. Johnson asserted that in January 2006, the police received "extensive information" that "drug activity and narcotic dealings" were occurring in defendant's unit. The ...


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