Was a landlord’s eviction in violation of Murphy’s executive order?

Julie Floyd and her family said they found their locks changed when they returned last week from two months away in South Carolina. Devastated and locked out, the Floyds — Julie, eight months pregnant, her husband, and 9- and 3-year-old children — climbed through a window. She said everything was still in the house.

But, last Saturday, on her son’s birthday, Floyd says she found her family’s possessions on the curb on Treacy Avenue in Newark.

“The stuff that I had for my baby that’s coming soon, my kids’ beds, my furniture. I couldn’t do anything but cry, but cry,” she said.

Floyd says the family had no way and nowhere to take their belongings.

With their home and possessions gone, Essex Newark Legal Services sued and a judge ordered the landlord, Meridian Prime Ventures and Neil Auricchio, to allow the Floyds back into the apartment and to regain their possessions.

“I have mixed emotions. I’m very, very thankful, grateful, but I also have some worry, some concerns, because there’s many things wrong with the apartment,” Floyd said.

In November 2018, the Floyd family came from New York as part of the SOTA, or Special One-Time Assistance, program. It paid a year’s rent for the city’s neediest families to live elsewhere.

In a rent dispute that predates the pandemic, the Treacy Avenue landlord accused the Floyds of falling way behind on their rent to the tune now of more than $15,000. Courts are not putting renters out after Gov. Phil Murphy suspended all evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic.

“No one, and I repeat no one, in New Jersey should fear being kicked out of their home in this emergency,” Murphy said at a news conference on March 19.

The landlord’s attorney says the Floyds vacated the apartment in early May, leaving only a few pieces of furniture.

“The landlord said, ‘Well she’s obviously not coming back. I’m going to take over the apartment, clean it up and re-rent it,'” said V. James Castiglia, the landlord’s attorney.

The two sides accuse each other of not communicating for weeks. Last week, when the Floyds returned from their stay in  South Carolina, they found the locks had been changed.

“The landlord didn’t evict her. She abandoned the property. She moved out,” Castiglia said.

“If they’re not there for a long, but they still have a lease that is in effect and not expiring until November of this year, it’s very hard to imagine a judge agreeing that she’s abandoned her unit,” said the Floyd’s attorney Nicholas Bittner.

The landlord’s attorney says the Floyds removed their own possessions from the apartment last Saturday.

“She sent some men with a truck. We allowed them back in and she removed her possessions,” Castiglia said.

The Floyd’s attorney says that’s unheard of and says the landlord broke the law.

“The illegal lockout is a clear violation of New Jersey law under normal circumstances, and especially a violation of protections that have been provided by the governor’s executive order during this pandemic. Right now, no lockouts, even with court process, can proceed,” Bittner said.

With only the clothes they collected last Saturday, the Floyds may go back home. The judge who ordered it wants to hear more about the case next month.