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329 Palisade Avenue, LLC. v. Jesus

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


April 9, 2008

329 PALISADE AVENUE, LLC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ANGEL DE JESUS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. LT-9438-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued February 13, 2008

Before Judges Coburn, Fuentes and Grall.

Defendant Angel De Jesus appeals from a judgment of possession terminating his tenancy, entered by the Law Division, Special Civil Part. Defendant argues that plaintiff 329 Palisade Avenue, L.L.C., failed to satisfy the Anti-Eviction Act's strict notice procedures, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(a), thus depriving the trial court of jurisdiction. We agree with defendant's arguments and reverse.

Defendant has been a residential tenant occupying apartment number 5 at 329 Palisade Avenue in Jersey City for approximately five years. On or about June 18, 2007, plaintiff served defendant with three documents. The first of these documents denoted a Notice to Quit purported to terminate his tenancy.

Attached to this Notice to Quit was another document labeled a Notice Terminating Lease. Attached to these notices was a copy of a Notice to Cease, dated May 29, 2007.

The June 18, 2007, Notice to Quit reads as follows:

TO: Angel De Jesus 329 Palisade Avenue, Apt. 5 Jersey City, NJ 07606 [sic]

1. You presently rent apartment No. 5 at 329 Palisade Ave. in Jersey City, New Jersey. 07606 [sic]

2. On March [sic] 29, 2007 you were served with a Notice to Quit [sic] for, among other things, willful and/or grossly negligent damage to the premises.

3. Now you are served with a Notice to Quit that your tenancy is terminated as of June 25, 2007.

4. Demand is hereby made for possession.

The Notice Terminating Lease, also dated June 18, 2007, and attached to the June 18 Notice to Quit, reads:

TO: Angel De Jesus 329 Palisade Avenue, Apt. 5 Jersey City, NJ 07606 [sic]

1. You presently rent apartment No. 5 at 329 Palisade Ave. in Jersey City, New Jersey 07306.

2. Your lease is terminated as of June 25, 2007.

3. Demand for possession - you must leave and vacate this rental property on or before June 25, 2007. [T]his means you must move out and deliver possession to me, your Landlord.

4. For the reasons set forth in the Notice to Cease of May 29, 2007, a copy of which is annexed hereto as Exhibit A.

The Notice to Cease, dated May 29, 2007 and attached to the June 18 Notices to Quit and Terminating Lease, reads:

Dear Mr. DeJesus:

Please be advised that this office represents your Landlord, 329 Palisades [sic] Ave., LLC. By this letter you are hereby served "Notice to Cease" for the following conduct:

1. Illegal activity at the above noted premises [329 Palisade Avenue, apartment 5] which has included among other things an incident which occurred on or about July 25, 2006, including illegal activity at the above-noted premises as set forth in press accounts, police reports to which a shooting occurred on or about July 25, 2006, the use of controlled, dangerous substances and information of arrest and/or conviction for the use and/or possession of controlled, dangerous substances at the aforesaid premises, 329 Palisades [sic] Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey. Said conduct is contrary to the provisions of the lease to said premises dated February 20, 2003.

2. On or about March 3, 2007 you allowed the water to run from your apartment into the apartment below your apartment causing severe damage and injury to the below apartment and the premises of the Landlord. Said conduct was willful and/or grossly negligent. Said conduct endangered the health and safety of other tenants.

3. On or about May 11, 2007 through the morning of May 12, 2007 you allowed persons to occupy your premises who played loud music and made other noises which disturbed the peace and quiet of occupants and other tenants living at 329 Palisade Ave. Further, on or about May 11, 2007 through May 12, 2007 persons whom [sic] occupied your apartment stole keys to all apartments at 329 Palisade Ave., causing Landlord to rekey all apartments. Such conduct constitutes as [sic] disorderly conduct.

4. In addition to the above, disorderly conduct said [sic] forth in prior Notices of March 7, 2007 and March 20, 2007 attached hereto and made apart hereof is hereby realleged.*fn1

Demand is hereby made that you cease conduct complained of immediately.

Please further be advised that your failure to cease the conduct complained of will result in action to evict you pursuant to law.

In a summary dispossess action, the jurisdiction of the trial court depends upon the legal efficacy of the notices.

Stated differently, the trial court must dismiss the eviction action if there is any deviation from the statutory notice requirements, even if the landlord had acted in good faith and the tenant has not been prejudiced. 224 Jefferson St. Condo Ass'n v. Paige, 346 N.J. Super. 379 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 172 N.J. 179 (2002); Vander Sterre Bros. Const. v. Keating, 284 N.J. Super. 433, 439 (App. Div. 1995). We will thus limit our legal discussion to this issue.

Here, the defects contained in the Notice to Quit are palpable and unmistakable, mandating the dismissal of this residential tenancy action. First, the notice is replete with typographical errors, erroneously referring to a non-existing document. The notice refers to a "March 29, 2007 Notice to Quit," when, in fact, the correct document was the May 29, 2007 Notice to Cease. Further, the Notice to Quit does not itself specify the grounds for eviction. Rather, the Notice to Quit attempts to incorporate by reference a non-existing document, finishing with a vaguely worded allusion to "among other things, willful and/or grossly negligent damage to the premises."

These defects were fatal to the court's jurisdiction, and were not subject to correction or amplification at trial. We therefore need not reach the question of whether plaintiff's case in chief contained sufficient evidence to support the termination of defendant's tenancy.

We conclude by emphasizing that New Jersey's Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 to -61.12, was enacted to address our State's severe housing shortage. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1a; Kuzuri Kijiji, Inc. v. Bryan, 371 N.J. Super. 263, 269 (App. Div. 2004) (quoting 224 Jefferson St., supra, 346 N.J. Super. at 383). The Act grants residential tenants numerous procedural rights and safeguards, protecting against involuntary displacement except for on specific enumerated grounds. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.3(a); Les Gertrude Assocs. v. Walko, 262 N.J. Super. 544, 548 (App. Div. 1993). "[T]he dominating principle in construing the Act [is] that it must be construed liberally with all doubts construed in favor of a tenant." 224 Jefferson St., supra, 346 N.J. Super. at 389.

In our view, the trial court here failed to appreciate this fundamental aspect of our State's residential tenancy law.

Reversed.


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