Q&A: Building Owner Incarcerated for Mortgage Fraud

Q I live in a 28-building garden apartment complex with 56 units per building—some of which are rent stabilized, others of which were sold as condos. The owner of the complex is now in jail in connection with his company’s fraudulent mortgage activities. Tenants are now receiving foreclosure threats and eviction notices. How can we protect ourselves? Will banks evict residents based on the building owner’s illegal activities?

—Fretful Resident

A “The Anti-Eviction Act governs this matter pertaining to the garden complex you describe, says Jennifer Loheac, an attorney with the Woodbridge, New Jersey-based law firm of Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis LLP.“Public policy in New Jersey as drafted by our legislators and emphasized by our courts, protects blameless tenants from eviction, irrespective of a landlord’s personal issues and even hardships.This stance is largely in response to severe shortages of rental housing in the state and a desire to discourage wrongful and arbitrary evictions, particularly of low-income and elderly people.A landlord may only evict tenants for good cause, which is defined in the act as failing to pay rent, causing continued disorder and disturbance, damaging property either purposely or through gross negligence, or refusing to abide by basic reasonable rules contained in the lease.

“A landlord may also evict in other certain limited situations that have nothing to do with a tenant’s own actions, such as when a governmental entity cites the property as “uninhabitable” or when a landlord is converting a rental project to a condominium. Even though landlords may evict tenants when converting rental property to a condominium, the process is statutorily prescribed, calling for generous notice to tenants and very clear written communications by the landlord advising tenants of rights and remedies.

“Essentially, the landlord is required to give pre-conversion tenants three years’ notice or until the written lease expires (whichever is longer), as well as assistance to find comparable housing. For any tenancies started after the unit was officially converted to a condominium, the landlord must provide a statement advising that the apartment is being converted to a condominium and that the tenant will have 60 days notice if the landlord finds a buyer. The notice also provides that if the tenant moves out and the landlord does not complete the sale, the landlord is liable for treble damages and court costs. As protective as the law is for the average tenant, the law isevenmore stringentfor underprivileged people, the elderly or handicap. Federal law will preempt to protect those tenants with rent subsidy, and qualified senior and handicap tenants have protected status pursuant toState law, namely the“Senior Citizens and Disabled Protected Tenancy Act” as well as the “Tenant Protection Act of 1992.“Under these acts, anyone who is disabled or 62 years of age or older and resided in the rental project prior to conversion may be entitled to protected status for up to 40 years. Please be aware that there are income qualifications to this.

“Finally, the Anti-Eviction Act, as amended, applies to foreclosing mortgagees as well. Irrespective of whether the tenancy was established before or after execution of the mortgage, tenants are protected from eviction by foreclosing mortgagees. So, in your scenario, even though the landlord is in jail and banks are seeking to foreclose, the law, even then, does not abandon its protection of the tenant. That said, it is very important for tenants who are in receipt of eviction notices to contact an attorney or legal aid to better assess their individual situation. There are time limits for invoking certain rights, and this is best handled on a case-by-case basis.”

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