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Carene Sangiuliano v. Domonique Walker

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


November 7, 2011

CARENE SANGIULIANO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
DOMONIQUE WALKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. LT-11264-10.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 24, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.

Defendant is a former tenant in an apartment in Rahway owned by plaintiff. Defendant appeals from a default judgment for possession of the apartment entered on January 14, 2011 and the part of an order entered on February 14, 2011 that denied her motion to vacate the default judgment.

Based on the judgment for possession, defendant was evicted from the apartment. Plaintiff suggests that defendant's eviction moots this appeal. However, we are satisfied that the record of defendant's eviction could have an adverse impact upon her future opportunities to rent housing, which gives her a sufficient interest to pursue this appeal notwithstanding its technical mootness. See Sandersen v. Royal, 386 N.J. Super. 246, 251 (App. Div. 2005).

Plaintiff's summary dispossession action was based on defendant's alleged disorderly conduct in the premises and violations of the landlord's rules and regulations. Such a dispossession action is governed by the requirements of the Anti-Eviction Act set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1. "Unless the landlord demonstrates compliance with these statutory provisions, a judgment for possession may not be entered." RWB Newton Assocs. v. Gunn, 224 N.J. Super. 704, 709 (App. Div. 1988).

Under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(b), a landlord may obtain a judgment for possession if she shows that "[t]he [tenant] has continued to be, after written notice to cease, so disorderly as to destroy the peace and quiet of the occupants or other tenants living in said house or neighborhood," and under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(d), a landlord may obtain a judgment for possession if she shows that "[t]he [tenant] has continued, after written notice to cease, to substantially violate or breach any of the landlord's rules and regulations." If the tenant's actions provide grounds for eviction under either of these subsections, the landlord must make a "written demand and . . . written notice for delivery of possession of the premises[,]" sometimes referred to as a "notice to quit," before filing a summary dispossession action. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2. This notice must be filed three days before filing a dispossession action under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(b), N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(a), and thirty days before filing an action under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(d), N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2(b).

Absent "strict compliance" with these notice requirements, a trial court lacks jurisdiction to entertain an action for summary dispossession under the Anti-Eviction Act. 224 Jefferson Condo. Ass'n v. Page, 346 N.J. Super. 379, 384 (App. Div. 2002); see also Kuzuri Kijiji, Inc. v. Bryan, 371 N.J. Super. 263, 272 (2004).

In this case, plaintiff served defendant with a "Notice to Cease" on or about October 15, 2010, which stated that defendant:

[M]ay be evicted for the following reasons:

1. Causing and inflicting bodily harm to upstairs tenants.

2. Endangering the safety of a minor.

3. Causing distress and verbal abuse to neighbors.

4. Causing excessive noise with music, so as to distress neighbors and upstairs tenants.

5. Having an animal in apartment where none is allowed according to lease.

6. Having a washing machine where none is allowed according to lease.

7. Violating the following sections of lease: 9(1)(4)(10), 11(f), 12(c) (e)(f)(g)(o), 19 & 29.

Following service of this notice, plaintiff served defendant with a "Notice to Quit" on or about November 9, 2010, which notified defendant that her tenancy would be terminated as of November 30, 2010. The only explanation plaintiff gave for this termination was: "See attached violations of lease 'notice to cease.'" The attached "notice to cease" was apparently the same "notice to cease" plaintiff had served upon defendant on October 15, 2010. Thus, the "notice to quit" did not identify any "continued" disorderly conduct or violation of the landlord's rules and regulations committed by defendant after her initial receipt of the "notice to cease."

Following service of the "notice to quit," plaintiff filed this action. Defendant was unable to appear on the scheduled trial date, January 10, 2011, because she was then a resident of an inpatient facility that treats alcoholism and drug dependency. Consequently, the trial court adjourned the trial until January 14, 2010. However, defendant did not receive notice of this new trial date and failed to appear. As a result, a default judgment for possession was entered against her.

On February 7, 2011, defendant, who was then for the first time represented by counsel, applied to the court to vacate the default judgment and to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain it. In support of this request for relief, defendant asserted that plaintiff's notice to quit had been defective.

On the return date of the order to show cause entered in response to this application, the trial court denied defendant's motion to vacate the default judgment. Defendant appeals from that denial.

N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2 requires a notice to quit to "specify in detail the cause of the termination of the tenancy." This provision requires a landlord not only to give a tenant a notice to cease that identifies good cause for the termination of a tenancy but also to specify in the notice to quit how and when the tenant has "continued" to engage in disorderly conduct or violation of the landlord's rules and regulations after receipt of the notice to cease. See RWB Newton Assocs., supra, 224 N.J. Super. at 709; see also Carteret Props. v. Variety Donuts, Inc., 49 N.J. 116, 124 (1967). The notice to quit plaintiff served upon defendant failed to comply with this requirement.*fn1

Therefore, the trial court should have granted defendant's motion to vacate the default judgment for possession and dismissed plaintiff's complaint.

Accordingly, the judgment for possession is reversed.


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