On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-634-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman and Fuentes.
This case originated as a summary dispossess action for nonpayment of rent filed by Joseph Perretta, the owner of a residential property where Kimberly Wyles and her children reside. Wyles filed a responsive pleading and a third-party complaint against the Housing Authority of the City of Camden (Housing Authority) seeking recognition of her status as a "remaining member" after her father's death and for continuation of the Section 8 subsidy.
The Special Civil Part transferred the case to the Law Division, where the court entered judgment of possession for nonpayment of rent against Wyles but stayed the execution of the warrant of removal pending the outcome of a bench trial on the claims against the Housing Authority. At the end of that trial, the court found that Wyles's leasehold was not terminated by her father's death and that her status as a minor at the time of his death did not automatically disqualify her from participating in the Section 8 housing program. The court also found that the Housing Authority: (1) had an obligation to respond to Wyles's request for remaining member status; (2) wrongfully denied Wyles's request to be recognized as a "remaining member of a tenant family"; and (3) wrongfully terminated her Section 8 housing voucher. The court directed the Housing Authority to complete the recertification process for Wyles and place her into the Section 8 housing voucher program if she so qualified.
The Housing Authority now appeals from the trial court's order memorializing this decision. We affirm. The following facts will inform our discussion of the legal issues raised by the parties.
Kimberly Wyles's father, Percival Wyles, entered into a residential lease agreement with Perretta for a row home apartment from February 2, 2005, until February 1, 2006. The rent was $925.00 per month. Although Percival listed himself as the only "tenant," he also indicated that three of his children shared the apartment as "occupants." Percival resided in the apartment with his daughter, Kimberly, his other daughter, Alisha, and his granddaughter, Felicia Wyles. While living in the apartment with her father, Kimberly Wyles gave birth to two children.
Percival continued to reside in the apartment until his death in September of 2007. Wyles, who was seventeen years old at the time of her father's death, continued to reside in the apartment with her children.
The lease agreement provided that:
Landlord must give Tenant at least 60 days notice before the lease term ends. If any terms and conditions are changed, Tenant has 30 days from the date of receiving the notice to decide to accept or not accept the changes . . . If Tenant does not give the required notice within the 30 day period, the lease renews under the new terms and conditions given by the Landlord . . . This lease automatically renews on a month-to-month basis if not ended or changed by either party with a rent increase of 3 percent.
By letter dated September 26, 2007, the Housing Authority notified the "Family of Percival Wyles" that its rental assistance would terminate on October 31, 2007. According to Wyles, upon receipt of this notice, she attempted to contact the Housing Authority on two separate occasions to request "remaining member status" and to request a recertification hearing regarding the Section 8 rental subsidy. Geraldine Taylor, a "Family Self-Sufficiency Coordinator" employed by the Housing Authority, testified that she never received any communications from the Wyles family after Percival's death.
By letter dated October 18, 2007, an attorney representing Wyles sent letters to the Housing Authority to "formal[ly] request . . . remaining member status under the Section 8 program" and to "arrange a time when the necessary recertification paperwork [could] be completed." The Housing Authority did not respond to any of these requests and terminated rental subsidy payments for Wyles's apartment on October 31, 2007.
After October 31, 2007, neither Wyles nor the Housing Authority paid any rent to Perretta. As a result, Perretta filed a summary dispossess action seeking to evict Wyles for nonpayment of rent. During the pendency of this action, Wyles ...