New Jersey Tenants Afforded Greater Latitude Under “One Strike” Policy

umpire.bmpIn 1996, in an effort to solve an epidemic of rampant drug use in publicly assisted housing, President Clinton announced a “one strike and you’re out” initiative for Section 8 and public housing projects. The new guidelines included more comprehensive screening and stricter eviction policies relating to drug use and criminal conduct. Under the “one strike and you’re out” policy, public housing authorities are allowed to refuse admission to any household who has been evicted from public or Section 8 housing. In the matter of Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125 (2002), the United States Supreme Court affirmed the right of public housing authorities, to evict entire public housing households whenever any member of the household, or any household guest, engages in drug-related or certain other criminal activity.

Notwithstanding the Rucker ruling, in the recent matter of Newark Housing Authority v. Martinez-Vega, Docket Number ESX-LT-20023-11, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mahlon Fast placed some limitations on the powers given to housing authorities. Judge Fast, whose name many may recognize as being the long time authority in the area landlord tenant law, ruled that the Newark Housing Authority had exceeded its powers in attempting to evict a tenant whose visiting son had been arrested at the apartment for gun and drug possession. In so ruling, Judge Fast indicated that a tenant should not be automatically penalized for the actions of a non-resident family member.

The decision by Judge Fast is, in fact, consistent with the decision Appellate Court’s decision in the matter of Oakwood Plaza Apartments v. Smith, 352 N.J. Super. 467 (2002). In that matter, the Court ruled that eviction actions from federally subsidized housing projects cannot be arbitrary or capricious and that it is the duty of the courts to ensure that landlords exercise discretion in properly weighing the salient factors.