April 22, 2009
BROOKS-SLOATE TERRACE COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION, INC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
JUDY PITTS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. L-0254-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 1, 2009
Before Judges Rodríguez and Newman.
Defendant Judy Pitts appeals from the order of August 11, 2008, entering a judgment in favor of plaintiff Brooks-Sloate Terrace Cooperative Association, Inc. The amount of the judgment was $12,374.68 representing unpaid maintenance, assessments and charges. Plaintiff is a non-profit cooperative association for low-income residents of Paterson. Maintenance payments from the residents of the two-hundred-and-forty unit housing complex is essential to provide quality housing for the various occupants. We now affirm.
The judgment also awarded reasonable attorney's fees to be based on a certification of attorney's fees and costs and provided for the cancellation of stock certificate No. 0214, representing one share in the cooperative association and issued to defendant on June 11, 1996. The judgment further ordered the cancellation of stock certificate No. 0214 and the proprietary lease for the cooperative unit located at 8-6 Christina Place, Paterson, issued to defendant. A judgment of possession of the cooperative unit was also ordered. The right of defendant to occupy that unit was terminated along with any occupant and an ejectment was ordered against defendant and anyone else occupying that cooperative unit. A writ of possession was to be issued ordering the removal of all persons and property. Upon the sale of the stock certificate previously issued to defendant, the balance of any equity less any sums necessary to satisfy the monetary judgment was to be returned to defendant. At the time of the entry of the order, the value of the unit was $8,500, leaving a deficiency amount that would have to be pursued in another proceeding.
The terms of the order just recited were similar, except for the amount of the judgment, to orders previously entered on December 5, 2003, by Judge Christine L. Miniman and on July 23, 2007, by Judge Ronald B. Sokalski. Notwithstanding the entry of these prior orders, defendant still remained as the occupant of the cooperative unit. On October 26, 2007, Judge Reddin entered a stipulation of settlement requiring defendant to pay $1,000 representing the unpaid rent of $722 for June 2007, and additional legal fees of $278 incurred in collection. The $1,000 total was to be paid at a rate of $100 per month until the $1,000 was satisfied.
Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration before Judge Thomas LaConte. In denying the motion, Judge LaConte noted the following in his order of August 29, 2008: "Judges Miniman and Sokalski granted the same relief as now granted by this court and Judge Reddin only dealt with a purported settlement of a legal fee dispute."
Various motions to stay the writ of possession were filed. The Passaic County Sheriff anticipated a "lock-out" no later than February 5, 2009, which was the expiration date on the writ of execution. If defendant remained in the unit past that date, a new writ of execution would be needed to do a "lock-out." This court granted a temporary stay permitting defendant to retain possession of the premises until 3:00 p.m. on February 5, 2009.
Defendant has been a delinquent account as reflected by the orders entered since December 5, 2003, and has avoided ejectment for more than five years. Judge LaConte recognized that defendant had incurred an obligation which remained unpaid. He saw no alternative but to grant the relief "for the third time for what Brooks-Sloate wants."
On appeal, defendant raises six argument summaries, none of which challenge the amount of the judgment incurred of $12,374 representing unpaid maintenance, assessments and charges. Defendant contends that this would not have occurred had plaintiff accepted a check for $6,183 in March 2006. However, that amount only reduced the outstanding liability which was in excess of $17,000 at that time.
Defendant also contends that plaintiff changed its policy by not assisting low-income earners and only renting to Section 8 and middle-class families. That assertion, even if it was true, has nothing to do with the unpaid maintenance charges. Additionally, there were no proofs submitted to Judge LaConte to support this allegation which was not relevant to the issue before the trial judge.
Defendant also contends that the amount of attorney's fees was not reasonable but no challenge was made to that issue.
Defendant further argues that the stipulation of settlement that referred back to May 21, 2007, was not clear in its terms because it did not expressly indicate that she was to pay rent in July. The settlement agreement did not relieve her of the obligation to pay the July rent. Even it was unclear, it would still not have an effect on the judgment rendered by Judge LaConte on August 11, 2008.
The settlement stipulation entered by Judge Reddin only addressed, as previously described, the June 2007 rent and the attorney's fees in connection with its collection. It had nothing to do with the substantial liability that defendant incurred for not paying her maintenance charges, which were necessary to operate the two-hundred-and-forty housing units.
We are satisfied that Judge LaConte's decision was based on adequate, substantial and credible evidence. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). We discern no reason to disturb the judgment under review.
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