NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Telephonically Argued December 16, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Hudson County, Docket No. DC-019486-12.
Scott H. Pringle argued the cause for appellant (Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, Inc., attorneys; Mr. Pringles, of counsel and on the brief).
Respondent Yolanda Marquez has not filed a brief.
Before Judges Messano and Hayden.
On November 7, 2012, plaintiff Andrew Newman filed a verified complaint in the Special Civil Part pursuant to the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:39-1 to -8, alleging defendant Yolanda Marquez had illegally locked him out of premises she owned and in which he was a tenant. The judge entered an order to show cause with restraints returnable on November 14.
On the return date, plaintiff appeared without counsel; defendant appeared with counsel and a witness, who counsel identified as "the manager of the hotel." Under oath, plaintiff acknowledged that he was behind in the payment of his rent and claimed the superintendent forced him to leave. However, since the issuance of the order to show cause, he had been restored to the premises. The judge was prepared to adjourn the matter so defense counsel, just recently retained, could prepare.
However, counsel indicated a desire to resolve the case immediately and furnished the judge with a "certificate of registration from the Department of Community Affairs" indicating the property was registered as a hotel. Counsel argued that the property, therefore, was not subject to provisions of the Anti-Eviction Act, specifically N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 (exempting "a hotel, motel or other guest house or part thereof rented to a transient guest or seasonal tenant" from the statute).
Plaintiff claimed that defendant had previously served him with a "notice to cease, " implying he was a tenant for purposes of the Anti-Eviction Act. He also argued that defendant would routinely move him and other tenants to another apartment building she owned "every [ninety] days, " thereby attempting to avoid the creation of a landlord-tenant relationship. Plaintiff testified that he had lived continuously at defendant's various properties for "multiple years."
The judge asked plaintiff if "[s]omething exists . . . in . . . law that says . . . because you have lived continuously on a property you have created a landlord-tenant relationship in a hotel?" Plaintiff answered in the affirmative, but, when asked by the judge for a citation, could furnish none. Ultimately, the judge dissolved the prior restraints, vacated the order to show cause and entered an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice, finding that N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 did not apply. She invited plaintiff to seek reconsideration if he could "find that case law, " and ordered plaintiff "to leave [the] premises immediately."
On December 4, 2012, now represented by counsel, plaintiff moved for reconsideration and sought transfer of the complaint to the Law Division. In his affidavit in support of the motion, plaintiff stated that he had lived at another property owned by defendant from December 2008 to April 2012, when a serious fire forced him and the other residents to leave the building. In April 2012, he moved to the present location. He further asserted that, with the exception of one six-month period, he had lived in either of these two buildings since January 2005.
Plaintiff claimed that all his personal property had been disposed of since being "forcibly evicted from [his] home at [defendant's] direction." He estimated the value of those belongings, and, noting the treble damages provision of N.J.S.A. 2A:39-8, asserted that "recovery in this matter will ...