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A recent ruling from the New Jersey Appellate Division emphasizes an important lesson: when ain't nobody asked you, keep your mouth tight shut!

MHC Pine Ridge at Crestwood, LLC owns a mobile home community in Whiting, New Jersey. The company offers ground leases to individuals who wish to situate manufactured homes on its property. Residents own their individual manufactured homes and rent the underlying land from the company.

The community is restricted to individuals who are age fifty-five and older. As no children are permitted to live there, those who reside in community are not required to pay school taxes.

In April 2021, David Skidmore and his son John signed a ground lease with MHC Pine Ridge at Crestwood, with David and John designated as the only occupants of their home.

The ground lease required that homeowners be over fifty-five years old. It also provided that "occupancy by persons not listed here or later approved by the company, or by more than two persons times the number of bedrooms, or
by anyone under forty years of age shall be a violation of this agreement and cause for termination of the agreement."

Additional rules and regulations governing the community were stated in the Guidelines for Community Living ("Guidelines") provided to
defendants. Under the Guidelines, a least one person permanently residing in the community must be fifty-five years of age or older as of the date of occupancy. Any other occupants of a home situated in plaintiff's community are required to be at least forty years of age and "screened for compliance" with the terms of the Guidelines and ground lease. The Guidelines expressly stated, "only occupants listed in the lease may occupy the home."

At some point while he was living in the community, John married a younger woman. The couple then had two children who also lived in the community.

John's wife was not at least forty years of age when she lived in the community. Nor was she named as an occupant of the home under the ground lease.

The company filed legal action in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County seeking to evict the family because they "allowed unauthorized, unapproved tenants to reside in the home."

At trial, John explained that David, then over eighty years old, suffered from health issues and received dialysis treatments. John testified that he and his
family were David's caregivers.

John further asserted that it was his constitutional right to marry and have children.

Then the landlord's attorney cross-examined John.

On cross-examination, John admitted he "screwed up" when he failed to comply with the terms of the ground lease and Guidelines. He also acknowledged failing to read the ground lease and Guidelines in their entirety.

The judge granted a judgment of possession in favor of the company based on the defendants violation of the ground lease and Guidelines.

In his decision, the judge added:
plaintiff has more than sustained its burden. Their best witness was John. He volunteered information when he wasn't asked. When his attorney finished, he wanted to volunteer extra information. He readily admitted that he screwed up, he signed the lease, and he had read rules and regulations.


The judge also rejected John's constitutional arguments, finding that while he did have the right to marry and have children, he did not have the right to live in the age restricted community.

Two months after the entry of the judgment for possession, David and John either relocated or were locked out pursuant to the trial court's warrant of removal.

David and John filed an appeal, arguing that the company "wrongfully filed for an eviction  in violation of their rights and public policy."

Judges Whipple and Mayer were not the least bit persuaded.

"We agree with the trial judge that eviction was warranted based on the defendants' violation of the ground lease and Guidelines.

"Here, the defendants were apprised of the fifty-five plus age restriction in the community when they signed the ground lease and received the Guidelines. The defendants received a financial benefit by living in the community because they were not required to pay school taxes based on the age restricted status of the property. Further, the defendants never disputed that John's wife was less than forty years old at the time she lived in the community, and she did not "screen" for compliance with the terms of the ground lease and Guidelines. Nor did the defendants claim that John's wife was listed as an occupant of their home in the ground lease. Similarly, the defendants did not deny that John's young, school age children lived in the community contrary to the terms of the ground lease. Based on these facts, we are satisfied that the judge properly entered a judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff based on the defendants' violation of the ground lease and Guidelines," the judges concluded.

The winning attorney is Lori C. Greenberg Esq. of Lori C. Greenberg & Associates.

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