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When Spaces are Considered ‘Buildings’ Under NJ Law?

Jun 16 2017

Written by Jason C. Henbest, Esq. and Brittany Saxton

Real estate centers around one concept: location. With some locations being more desirable than others, it is important for landlords to determine what spaces are inhabitable and suitable for renting purposes.  This is especially true for the state of New Jersey.  Known as the most densely populated state per square mile, many New Jersey residents know that good real estate, even good apartments, in desirable areas are hard to find. Until recently, the New Jersey legislature and courts had not made a clear determination of what constitutes a ‘building.’ This exact issue was affirmatively decided in the New Jersey Supreme Court case Cashin v. Bello, where the court held that the word ‘building’ as used in the Anti-Eviction Act, even extends to converted garages.

The Cashin v. Bello case is monumental for several reasons. First, the court’s holding allowed the plaintiff, who had been trying to evict the defendant from their converted garage for forty years, to obtain relief.  Next, the court was asked to decide a seemingly simply issue with vital consequences: whether the word ‘building’ referred only to a single, unattached physical structure or whether ‘building’ also encompasses structures that are owned by the same individual that may be attached or on the same parcel of land.  The court held that while the Anti-Eviction Act does not define the word building, the dictionary definition of the word is clear enough to denote the renovated garage as “a structure with walls and a roof, esp. a permanent structure."  Other evidence was not needed to supplement the plain language of the dictionary definition. Ultimately, this holding in Cashin is important because it not only allowed the plaintiff to regain rightful possession of their property, but it opened the door to simple interpretation of what counts as inhabitable living space—which is helpful to landlords and tenants alike.

To read more on an analysis of the Cashin v. Bellows case, click here.


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