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We are in a difficult and uncertain time and I hope everyone is staying safely at home.  In the meantime, our office has been receiving daily updates from the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Legislature, concerning delays in Court dates and filing deadlines.  We have been trying to forward this information to our clients as it becomes available.  On March 19, 2020, Chief Justice Rabner signed an Order delaying the filing deadline for local property tax appeals from April 1 to a new date, which will be scheduled for 30 days following the determination that the state of emergency declared by Governor Murphy has ended.

Accordingly, if you believe your property is substantially over-assessed, and you are concerned that you may miss the April 1 filing deadline, you may still have plenty of time to file your appeal.  However, please note that the delay of the filing deadline will only apply to Tax Appeal filings where the filing deadline would have been April 1 or later.  It will not apply to those matters in which the due date for the filing was before the signing of the Court’s Order.   For instance, if your property is in Monmouth County, where the County Tax Board’s filing deadline was changed to January 15, you will not be able to file an appeal with the County Tax Board at that time.  However, if your property’s assessment exceeds $1 Million, we can still appeal the assessment directly to the Tax Court.

 
Coronavirus Related Valuation Arguments Will Not Be Successful In 2020 Tax Appeals

Our office remains open and we are closely monitoring the quickly developing effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  During the past few days, we have received several calls from our clients, who concerned about the effects of the moratorium on evictions.  As resources become available and new information is released, we will keep you up to date.  In the meantime, we are aware that there is a lot of seemingly conflicting information regarding delays in evictions.  In this article, we will explain the details of some of the new temporary laws that may affect our clients during the next few months. 

Filing and Scheduling Eviction Hearings

During this time, we can still file eviction actions and enter into payment agreements with tenants.  While eviction hearing dates have been slightly delayed during this emergency, these delays are precautionary due to social distancing requirements, and is not related to economic factors.  Therefore, we expect that the New Jersey Courts will resume conducting eviction hearings as soon as it is deemed safe to resume public gatherings.

Tenants who smoke in their apartments and in the common areas of their apartment buildings presents a major problem for landlords of multiple dwelling buildings. Inevitably, the smoke from one apartment will leak into neighboring apartments, leading to complaints and possible move-outs from non-smoking tenants, who generally find the smell of cigarette smoke to be abhorrent.  This problem has been largely vitiated, however, as the use of cigarettes has declined substantially during last 30 years.  Unfortunately, the New Jersey legislature will soon create a new problem since it has introduced new legislation to legalize marijuana.  Unlike the other states that have enacted the similarly misguided legislation to legalize marijuana during the last five years, New Jersey has the unique problem of having a significant portion of its population living in multiple dwellings.  Marijuana smoke, like tobacco smoke, causes a substantial annoyance to those who do not choose to use these harmful products.

Historically, the legislature has allowed for the eviction of a tenant for the mere use of marijuana or any illicit drugs in the residential dwelling.  N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(n) provides for the eviction of a tenant who “hasbeenconvictedoforpleadedguiltyto… anactwhich… wouldconstituteanoffenseundertheComprehensive DrugReformActof1987…involvingtheuse,possession,manufacture,dispensingor distributionofacontrolleddangeroussubstance.”  Similarly, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(p) allows for evictions for the same offense, even without a conviction, provided that the offense can be proven by the preponderance of evidence in the landlord tenant action.

However, when marijuana becomes legal, the curative provisions of N.J.S.A 2A:18-61.1, which have been designed, in part, to avoid the problem caused by tenants who use marijuana, will no longer be actionable.  Put simply, a landlord cannot evict a tenant for using a drug, which is no longer illegal.  Therefore, landlords must immediately consider writing new lease provisions in order to avoid these problems before they happen.

justice_srb_2In last month’s blog, our office presented Part One of our discussion on our recommendations to an arbitration board with regard a commercial landlord tenant matter, in which the tenant withheld rent in due to alleged habitability defects.   In this month’s blog, we continue our discussion of our analysis of that matter.

In most cases, the Court is loath to construe the Tenant’s good faith actions to enforce a contract as a default of the contract.   Like most default provisions found in commercial leases, the default in the lease in this matter was not curable. Therefore, in the event that the Tribunal were to declare a default in this matter, it is clear that the Tenant would not only forfeit the tenancy, but would also forfeit the benefit from the substantial investment he made in preparing the premises for the current use. Under the matter of Mandia v. Applegate, 310 N.J. Super 435, 447 (App. Div. 1998), “[l]anguage which may defeat an estate must be strictly construed and always against… a forfeiture.” In the matter of Vineland Shopping Center, Inc. v. DeMarco, 35 N.J. 459, 465 (1961), the Court held that “[i]n a proper case, equity will relieve a Tenant from forfeiture of a lease by reason of non-payment of money where performance has been made.

In the pendent matter, the Tenant defaulted in the lease by failing to pay rent. While the Tenant probably had other mechanisms of compelling the Landlord to make the requested repairs, the Tenant in this matter did not have a lot of good alternatives. Notwithstanding the clear statement contained in the written lease, we were required to determine whether it would be equitable for us to terminate the tenancy of someone who was only trying to compel the Landlord to make repairs that the Landlord was responsible to make. In the matter of Urdang v. Muse, 114 N.J. Super 372 (Cty. Dist. Ct. 1971), the Court held that “the Court may under its equitable powers, as enunciated in Vineland Shopping Center, relieve against forfeiture. This it may do despite the fact that defaults have taken place … The essence of the power to relieve against forfeiture is that equity may intervene to mitigate the inequitable consequences of a breach.”

Our office has previously reported on the subject of removing property that had been abandoned by a tenant. The general procedure, in those instances, requires a landlord to not only obtain a judgment for possession against the tenant, but to also provide the tenant with 30 days advance notice of his or her right to claim those belongs. In the event that the tenant’s belongings are not claimed within that period of time, the landlord may dispose of the tenant’s belongings. This procedure, however, does not apply to abandoned motor vehicles. In today’s article, we will briefly discuss the landlord’s procedure for removal of motor vehicles, which have been presumably abandoned by tenants.

In some instances, where the police are willing to intercede, the landlord can request that the abandoned vehicle be “ticketed” by the police, and then towed by a towing company. The owner of the vehicle will then be responsible for towing and storage fees, and may be subject to additional penalties, including loss of license. See Senate Bill 1173.

In cases where the police are not willing to intercede, the landlord should first apply to New Jersey Motor Vehicle Service to have the vehicle declared abandoned. Motor Vehicle Services will require that the landlord complete the following documents in order to complete this process: