Recent NJ Appellate Decision Chips Away at Eviction Moratorium Protections: Talmadge Village, LLC. v. Keith WilsonRead Now
By Ryan Westerman
On July 1, 2021, the New Jersey Appellate Decision issued a decision in the case of Talmadge Villages LLC v. Keith Wilson, Docket No. A-0590-20 (App. Div. 2021. The court published the decision thereby making it precedent for similarly situated cases that are currently pending or may arise in New Jersey Superior Court.
The issue before the Court was whether the trial court erred in staying a previous order, preventing the ejectment of the defendant based on Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 106, forbidding evictions in response to the COVID pandemic. Plaintiff argued Executive Order 106 does not apply to the defendant in this case due to the absence of a landlord/tenant relationship. Plaintiff argued the defendant was a “squatter” by legal definition and thereby not entitled to the protected afforded by the moratorium.
The Court agreed: “Because we do not believe the governor’s moratorium on eviction extends to persons having the legal status of squatter, we vacate the stay.”
The facts of the case are relatively simple. The defendant’s girlfriend resided in an apartment owned by plaintiff. She declined to renew her lease and vacated the property. Plaintiff learned defendant took residence of the property during an inspection of the premises, then issued a written demand to vacate. The defendant was never party to the previously existing lease (only his girlfriend was) nor did he ever pay plaintiff rent.
The trial court issued an order for possession in plaintiff’s favor, ordering defendant to vacate. The judge then put a legal stay on the enforcement, citing Executive Order 106 as the legal justification. In effect, the defendant was allowed to stay in the apartment until the eviction moratorium ended. Plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s stay:
Since defendant neither rented nor owned the subject premises when the trial court issued its…order, and plaintiff sought defendant’s removal from the residential property by way of ejectment, rather than an eviction or foreclosure proceeding, we are convinced defendant’s removal from the apartment was not barred under Executive Order 106.
From a legal standpoint, the Appellate Court has solid legal justification for its ruling by distinguishing “ejection” from an “eviction”. Executive Order 106 is absent any ejectment language, creating a loophole for plaintiffs to recover occupied property through an ejectment procedure. With the same pen stroke however, the Court also slashed at the public policy behind the Order 106:
…housing security and stability are important to public health, particularly as homelessness can increase vulnerability to COVID-19; and…removals of residents pursuant to evictions or foreclosure proceedings can increase the risk to those residents of contracting COVID-19, which in turn increases the risks to the rest of society and endangers public health.
Read the Appellate Court’s full decision here.
Stephanie Hunnell, Esq. , Ryan Westerman, Esq. and Caitlin Holland, Esq.