August 3, 2009
STATE STREET ASSOCIATES, LLC AND/OR SPECTRUM PROPERTIES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
LARRY J. YATES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County, Docket No. LT-3467-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 16, 2009
Before Judges Lisa and Collester.
Defendant, Larry J. Yates, appeals from a judgment for possession entered against him on May 13, 2008.*fn1 Defendant argues on appeal:
AS A MATTER OF LAW PLAINTIFF IS OBLIGATED TO COMPLETE PERFORMANCE.
A. RENT CONTROL ORDINANCE.
B. THE ANTI EVICTION ACT.
C. THE NEW JERSEY SECURITY DEPOSIT ACT.
THE JURISDICTIONAL REQUIREMENTS HAVE NEVER BEEN SATISFIED WHERE THE GRANT OF RELIEF TO THE PLAINTIFF IN ANY ACTION AGAINST THE DEFENDANT IS PLAIN ERROR.
LATCHES [SIC] AND UNCLEAN HANDS.
APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY BY THE TRIAL COURT.
DENIAL OF DEFENDANT'S APPLICATION FOR EMERGENT RELIEF WAS HARMFUL ERROR.
We reject these arguments and affirm.
Defendant has been a tenant since 1999 in Unit 65B at 49-71 State Street in Teaneck. The unit has been owned by plaintiff, 49-71 State Street Associates, LLC, since 2005. It was previously owned at all relevant times by plaintiff's principals. There is no need for us in this opinion to distinguish between the current and prior title owners.
The tenancy began with a one-year lease commencing on August 1, 1999. The landlord-tenant relationship between the parties has been a litigious one over the years. We need not recite the full history of prior litigation. We discuss only that which is relevant to the issues on appeal.
As a result of proceedings before the Teaneck Rent Leveling Board (Board), the Board adopted resolutions on September 27, 2006 finding that plaintiff impermissibly charged defendant excessive rent. Specifically, Resolution No. 01-06 determined that the permissible monthly rent for defendant's apartment from August 15, 1999 to September 30, 2003 was $783.06, and defendant had paid $7028.53 in excessive rent during that period. The Board also found that plaintiff violated portions of the Teaneck Rent Control Ordinance, including failure to provide defendant with a written lease for at least a one-year period.
In a Superior Court proceeding pending at that time, defendant filed a third-party complaint in lieu of prerogative writs against the Board, challenging its findings, and also filed a counterclaim against plaintiff. After the third-party complaint was bifurcated from the claims between plaintiff and defendant, Judge Harris entered an order on August 1, 2007 modifying Resolution No. 01-06 to reduce the "fair rental" to $760.25 per month, thus resulting in excessive rent paid by defendant of $8157.63. Defendant moved for leave to appeal, which we denied.
The dispute between plaintiff and defendant was tried in October 2007. At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Harris entered an order on November 8, 2007 declaring that defendant's obligation to pay rent was satisfied through October 31, 2007 by virtue of the overpayment previously made. Defendant appealed the November 8, 2007 order.
On April 16, 2008, plaintiff filed the present action to dispossess defendant for nonpayment of rent from November 2007 to the time of filing. The parties appeared before Judge Rosa on May 5 and 13, 2008. Defendant argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because plaintiff had never provided him with a lease as required by the rent control ordinance and a 1999 court order prohibiting plaintiff from requiring a security deposit from defendant. Defendant further argued lack of jurisdiction because he had appealed the earlier order. Defendant also argued that under the Anti-Eviction Statute, plaintiff could not prevail because it failed to provide him with a notice and demand for rent.
The judge rejected defendant's arguments. He found that he had jurisdiction to hear the case, as it was "a simple non-payment case." As to defendant's claim that he was entitled to a lease, the judge found that defendant was a month-to-month tenant without a written lease, and was "protected as long as he pays his rent." Relying on the August 1, 2007 order, the judge found that defendant owed $760.25 in monthly rent. The rent had not been paid for seven months, thus resulting in an amount due of $5321.75. In response to defendant's request for a habitability hearing, the judge ordered that such a hearing could be scheduled if defendant posted the amount of rent due. See Marini v. Ireland, 56 N.J. 130, 146-47 (1970). Defendant refused to post the delinquent rent.
The judge further found that plaintiff provided sufficient notice to defendant in the form of the complaint. Finally, the judge held that an appeal does not stop the eviction process and noted that the August 1, 2007 order made no mention of any obligation by plaintiff to provide defendant with a lease. Accordingly, the judge entered the judgment of possession in favor of plaintiff, unless defendant paid the $5321.75 delinquent rent within three days.
On May 28, 2008, defendant filed an appeal. On May 29, 2008, Judge Rosa denied defendant's motion for a stay. We denied applications by defendant for emergent relief from the judgment of possession and, subsequently, from execution of the warrant for removal.
We first address defendant's argument that the judge erred in granting plaintiff a judgment of possession because of plaintiff's failure to provide defendant with a lease, failure to provide defendant with notice of the summary dispossession action, and failure to offer a lease that did not require a security deposit.
Defendant relies on Teaneck Code Section 29C-3(a), mandating that "[e]very dwelling unit subject to this act and the tenants thereof shall receive a written lease for a minimum period of one year." According to defendant, because Resolution No. 01-06 determined that plaintiff violated various provisions of the Teaneck rent control ordinance, including Section 29C-3(a), plaintiff's later failure to provide defendant with an annual lease again violated the municipal code, prohibiting plaintiff from prevailing in this action. We do not agree.
At the expiration of a tenancy for a stated term of one year or longer, and in the absence of the parties' execution of a renewal lease, the tenancy may be converted to a holdover month-to-month tenancy. Center Ave. Realty, Inc. v. Smith, 264 N.J. Super. 344, 348 (App. Div. 1993). Generally, the holdover tenancy results in an agreement subject to the same terms and conditions as the written lease other than the length of the tenancy. Ibid. Here, the circumstances were somewhat unique, as the parties were engaged in frequent litigation regarding, among other things, the amount of monthly rent. However, consistent with prior court orders, defendant had an obligation to pay $760.25 in monthly rent as of November 1, 2007. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(a) provides for the removal of a residential tenant who "fails to pay rent due and owing under the lease whether the same be oral or written."
Defendant's reliance on Resolution No. 01-06 is also unpersuasive. That resolution addressed defendant's landlord-tenant relationship with plaintiff for the period of 1999 to September 2003, and not the time period at issue here. Although plaintiff was obligated to provide defendant with a lease, such a violation did not absolve defendant from his responsibility to pay rent. Indeed, the resolution recognized defendant's obligation to pay rent during the period of 1999 to 2003, despite plaintiff's multiple violations of the municipal code.
We note that plaintiff included in its appendix a February 6, 2006 letter from defendant in which defendant refused to enter into a lease because of litigation then pending between the parties. However, there is no indication that this letter was entered into evidence at trial, and we therefore do not consider this document in our analysis.
Defendant also asserts that plaintiff's complaint was defective, and the court erred in relying on the August 1, 2007 order to determine defendant's monthly rent obligation. Defendant contends that plaintiff was obligated to provide him with a notice to quit before effecting a rent increase, and that the summons and complaint did not constitute adequate notice. We disagree.
The Anti-Eviction Statute provides that a landlord may remove a tenant for failure to pay rent. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1a. A landlord must provide written demand and a written notice for delivery of possession to a tenant before a judgment of possession is entered "except in the nonpayment of rent under subsection a. or f. of section 2." N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2. Therefore because plaintiff's complaint was for nonpayment of rent, plaintiff had no obligation to provide advance notice. The complaint itself provided notice. Hodges v. Feinstein, Raiss, Kelin & Booker, LLC, 383 N.J. Super. 596, 612-13 (App. Div. 2006), aff'd, Hodges v. Sasil Corp., 189 N.J. 210 (2007).
Defendant argues that in plaintiff's initial action against defendant, the trial court found plaintiff in violation of the New Jersey Security Deposit Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8-19 to -26, ordered defendant's security to be applied to his rent, and prohibited plaintiff from collecting a future security deposit from defendant. According to defendant, he failed to sign a new lease because plaintiff failed to offer one adhering to this requirement.
We fail to see the relevancy of prior litigation or disagreements regarding any attempt by plaintiff to impose a security deposit requirement on defendant. Even if plaintiff attempted to impose such a condition in violation of the municipal code, the issue at trial was defendant's unpaid rent. This would not be a defense.
In Point IV, defendant argues that the trial judge demonstrated bias toward him and did not conduct the trial fairly. This contention is totally baseless. From our review of the trial record, we are well satisfied that Judge Rosa presided in a courteous, patient, and impartial manner.
Defendant's remaining arguments, regarding jurisdiction, laches, unclean hands, and denial of emergent relief, lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).