Owner Must File Eviction Case on New Grounds
Facts: On June 1, 2012, a PHA executed a housing assistance payments (HAP) contract with an owner, and the owner entered into a Section 8 lease with a resident. The rent under the contract was $1,250; the PHA provided assistance of $1,216 per month, making the resident’s rent $34 per month.
After moving in, the resident made numerous complaints to the owner regarding habitability problems with the unit. She also contacted the PHA, which sent an inspector on Aug. 27, 2012, to investigate her complaints, and a report was made on Sept. 11, stating that numerous corrective actions were necessary to bring the unit into compliance with federal housing quality standards (HQS).
Meanwhile, the owner started an eviction proceeding against the resident for nonpayment of rent. At the eviction hearing, the judge didn’t address habitability. Instead, the judge determined that the owner was justified in asking for the resident’s eviction due to nonpayment, “even though the tenant says that she’s got the $102 and I will believe her, it is irrelevant...” The judge then ordered the resident’s eviction. The resident appealed.
Ruling: A New Jersey appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: Federal law permits a tenant of federally funded public housing to rely on state law governing eviction procedures where the law gives the tenant procedural rights in addition to those provided by federal law. Thus, federal public housing tenants can rely on New Jersey’s additional procedural protections found in the state’s Anti-Eviction Act. That law specifies several grounds upon which a landlord may remove a residential tenant, including if the tenant “fails to pay rent due and owing under the lease[.]”
Here, on the day of the hearing, before the judgment was entered, the resident stated that she had the money and was willing to pay the outstanding rent, and the judge accepted her representation. But the judge considered different complaints offered by the owner on the day of the hearing involving mold issues allegedly caused by the resident.
Rather than accepting the resident’s offer of payment, the court entered judgment of possession in favor of the landlord. According to state law, when a resident, before the entry of final judgment in summary dispossess proceedings, pays the outstanding rent together with the accrued costs of the proceedings, she may have the proceedings dismissed. Once the owner received the rent, the trial court’s jurisdiction to terminate the tenancy would have ended; if the owner wanted to continue to evict the resident, he couldn’t do so without filing a new complaint based on new grounds.
At the hearing, the judge found that, as of January 2013, the resident owed $102 in outstanding rent and that she was prepared to pay that amount at that time. Consequently, upon payment, the complaint should have been dismissed.
- Audain v. Wilson, July 2014