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Supreme Court Clarifies Definition of a Building in Anti-Eviction Act

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The Anti Eviction Act permits “owners of a building with three residential units or less to evict a tenant if the owner intends to personally occupy the unit.” N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(l)(3). Ms. Cashin owns a six-unit apartment building and a separate two-story single-family home. Both buildings are located on the same piece of land in Hoboken and are included in one tax bill, but have separate mailing addresses. In the 1960’s, Ms. Cashin’s late husband, a professional engineer, converted a garage into the single-family home with the proper permits from the City of Hoboken. Ms. Bello rented the single family home in 1973 and presently pays $345 per month in rent to reside there. Ms. Cashin sent Ms. Bello a “notice to quit,” providing Ms. Bello with 60 days to move out of the home because Ms. Cashin wished to personally occupy the home. When the 60 days lapsed, Ms. Bello failed to move out. Ms. Cashin filed an eviction complaint seeking possession of the building.

The New Jersey Supreme Court decided that the plain reading of the statute indicates that the statute applies to a “building” that contains three residential units or less. The statute does not define the term “building” and, therefore, the Court applied the plain meaning of “building” that refers to “a structure with walls and a roof, esp. a permanent structure.”

The Court noted that the legislature made a decision to provide landlords greater ability to assert their ownership rights when seeking to occupy their own buildings of up to three residential units. Moreover, in this case, the building has been used as a separate residence since 1966. Ms. Bello has rented the single-family home since 1973 and pays rent to live in a separate apartment. Ms. Bello receives mail there. The building has a separate mailing address. The fact that the building does not have a separate tax bill is unpersuasive in light of the longstanding actual use of the building.