December 16, 2010
MELROSE HALL EQUITY PARTNERS, LP, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
FAOUZI SAOUD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. LT-8376-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued December 6, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Grall and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant Faouzi Saoud appeals from a judgment of possession entered in favor of defendant's landlord, plaintiff Melrose Hall Equity Partners on their complaint alleging non- payment of rent. Defendant argues that plaintiff failed to establish that a rent increase of 317% was permissible and not unconscionable. The matter was tried to the court, and on April 28, 2010, Judge Rogers issued a letter opinion explaining her reasons for concluding that the increase was not unconscionable. We affirm substantially for the reasons stated in that opinion.
The premises at issue is a six-room, 1202-square-foot residential apartment in North Bergen that defendant has occupied since 1989. The apartment is subject to the North Bergen Rent Control Ordinance, and between 1989 and June 1, 2009, the rent was $391.91 per month. In 2008, plaintiff filed an application seeking authorization from the North Bergen Rent Control Board (Board) to increase defendant's rent on grounds of hardship. The Board approved an increase to $1242.39 per month effective June 1, 2009.
On March 16, 2009, plaintiff served defendant with a notice to quit and notice of the new rent.*fn1 Because defendant did not vacate or pay the new rent on June 1, plaintiff filed for possession on June 5, 2009 based on non-payment of rent. Defendant filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the Board's approval of the rent increase, and the matters were consolidated. Judge Costello affirmed the Board's decision and returned the landlord-tenant dispute to the Special Civil Part.
At trial, plaintiff presented evidence that its monthly costs for the apartment are about $950 and expert testimony establishing a fair market rent value based on rent for comparable apartments in the area well in excess of the rent approved by the Board. A comparable apartment in the same building was rented for $1800 per month, and a smaller unit in a nearby building was leased at a monthly rate of $1750.
The judge recognized plaintiff's obligation to prove that the rent increase is "not unconscionable and complies with any and all other laws or municipal ordinances governing rent increases." N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(f); see Fromet Properties, Inc. v. Buel, 294 N.J. Super. 601, 610 (App. Div. 1996). Additionally, he evaluated the factors a court should consider to determine whether an increase is unconscionable. Fromet, supra, 294 N.J. Super. at 614. Thus, the judge applied the governing legal standards and reached conclusions that are based on facts supported by the record. Finding no basis for concluding that the judge's determination is wide of the mark, we affirm. MacKinnon v. MacKinnon, 191 N.J. 240, 254 (2007).