The long-term, month-to-month tenant of a rent-controlled apartment in Jersey City allowed defendant Carlos Crayton to occupy the premises for six months and accepted rent from him. Crayton severely damaged the premises so that the landlord, Saleema Rampersaud, brought an eviction action under the Anti-Eviction Act.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-16.1(c) allows for removal of a lessee or tenant if good cause is proven where, “The person has willfully or by reason of gross negligence caused or allowed destruction, damage or injury to the premises.” Ronald A. Hollingsworth, the tenant, claimed that he did not cause the damage, and therefore could not be evicted. The trial court found that the landlord was entitled to possession, and both Hollingsworth and Crayton were to be evicted.
Hollingsworth, presumably with a “straight face,” argued on appeal in Rampersaud v. Hollingsworth that he was not the person contemplated by the statute for eviction and only Crayton, who did the damage, could be evicted. Judge Clarkson Fisher acknowledged that the “long winded statute” invited “fodder for any number of ‘cosmic rationales,’” citing Billy Joel’s song “Pressure,” and that the Anti-Eviction Act of 1974, of which the statute was a part, was to be interpreted liberally, but that the tenant’s theory “was not even remotely suggested by its context.” Although the tenant did not actually cause the damage, he is “’the ‘person’ who ‘allowed’ the damage to occur.” Furthermore, even if Crayton is the “person” for purposes of section (c) who caused the damage, Hollingsworth is still responsible for the tenancy-ending event. “The Anti-Eviction Act does not permit the eviction of only blameworthy occupants; it preserves tenancies absent proof of one of the many events described.” So while the preamble may protect the tenant, he is susceptible to eviction if a person caused the damage and, indeed, that is what happened: Crayton, a person, caused the damage.
In a witty footnote, Judge Fisher notes that the tenant’s analysis would mean that a tenant could host a party and cavalierly watch his guests damage the apartment, or a successor subtenant could also damage the apartment and the landlord would lack recourse to evict the tenant under both scenarios.
We think the tenant’s position was an untenable “stretch” and the Appellate Division got it absolutely right. The tenant was correctly evicted.