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What To Do As a Tenant If You Are Facing an Eviction in New Jersey
The Pandemic and a slowing economy have left a lot of people with many questions and no answers pertaining to rental issues. If you are a landlord or tenant, the eviction process in New Jersey can be difficult to navigate. I will compose a series of blog posts that will assist you navigate through this process. The first blog below deals with eviction for non-payment of rent.
Help, My Landlord is Evicting Me for Nonpayment of Rent
Can I be evicted for…?
Under New Jersey law, most landlords cannot evict you without “good cause.” This means that even if your lease has “run out,” you likely still have the right to continue living where you are.
There are a few exceptions to this. If the landlord lives on the site, and there are two or fewer rental units in addition to the landlord, then the landlord does not have to have “good cause”. There are also exceptions based on whether the living space is held in trust for, or occupied by, a member of the landlord’s immediate family who has a developmental disability. Most of the time, however, in order to evict you, the landlord must prove at least one of the following:
- Nonpayment of rent;
- Disorderly tenant;
- Willful or grossly negligent damage to premises;
- Violation of rules and regulations;
- Violation of lease covenants;
- Failure to pay rent after an increase;
- Landlord has been cited by state or local agency for health and safety violations, and the only economically feasible way to resolve the violation is to remove the tenant;
- Landlord has been cited by state or local agency for an illegal occupancy, and the only feasible way to resolve the violation is to remove the tenant;
- Landlord is a government agency that is redeveloping the property;
- Owner seeks to permanently retire property from rental market;
- Tenant refuses reasonable changes to the terms of the lease at the end of the lease;
- Habitual late payment of rent;
- The property will be converted to a condominium or co-op;
- Owner or new owner will be moving in;
- Tenant’s lease was based on employment by landlord (such as being an overseer or janitor for the building), and that employment is being terminated;
- Within the last two years, tenant, or someone tenant has taken in, has been convicted of assaults or threats against the landlord, landlord’s family, or landlord’s employee(s);
- Tenant or someone that the tenant has sheltered has been found liable for violations of the “Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987”;
- Tenant or someone that the tenant has sheltered has been found liable for theft on the property.
I cannot afford my rent . . .
If the complaint against you is for nonpayment of rent, and you are unable to pay the amount due and owing, then the landlord is likely to win possession of the property in court, and will be able to evict you. If the landlord is bringing a nonpayment of rent action against you, they are required to accept rent payment - they cannot refuse it.
Hardships during Covid-19 made me fall behind on rent. . .
If your household income is 120% of your county’s median income, then you are permanently protected from eviction or removal at any time for nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to accept a rent increase that accrued from March 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021, or through December 31, 2021. The money you owe for that period of time is converted to civil debt, and your landlord can sue you in small claims court for it, but cannot evict you for the rent owed from that time period. To get this protection, you must complete the NJ self-certification form here. Any rent you owe from before March 1, 2020, or after either August 31, 2021 or December 31, 2021 (depending on your income), will still enable your landlord to evict you, however. Local rental assistance by town and county may be available for some low and moderate income households. You can reach out to a Legal Services of NJ County Office for a list of rental assistance agencies local to you.
What if I do not owe any rent?
Nonpayment of rent can be defeated if you can demonstrate through money order receipts, bank statements, check stubs, or other documentation that you have made each month’s payment in full for the time period and amounts the landlord is accusing you of having not paid. Make sure to review the lease carefully, in addition to the ledger from your landlord and your own records, to ensure you know and understand all fees and charges the landlord is levying against you. If the amount owed is in dispute, the court will determine the full amount due and owing. If you can pay that amount to the court that day, or within three days of the actual eviction, the case will be dismissed. Note that in many cases, the landlord will have defined in the lease their attorney fees and court costs as additional rent, and those charges will be owed to the landlord as well.
I cannot pay what I owe; how long do I have before I am evicted?
In NJ, tenants have a right to the court process. This means that you can only be removed after the landlord has taken you to Superior Court and won their case before a judge. If you are illegally locked out by your landlord before a judge has ordered an eviction, or if the landlord shuts off your utilities or tries to force you to leave in any other way, call the police. Police officers cannot evict you, and must tell the landlord to let you back in. Only a Special Civil Part Officer of the Court can evict you.
If a judge grants the landlord “Judgment for Possession,” then the landlord has a right to the property and has the right to evict you. The judgment is entered the next business day from the trial. A “Warrant of Removal” can be issued as soon as three business days after the judgment is entered. A Special Civil Part Officer from the Court will then serve the Warrant on the tenant or (more likely) post it on the door of the rental property. Three days after the Warrant has been posted, the landlord will then request the Special Civil Part Officer come back to the property and remove the tenant, at which point the landlord will change the locks and the eviction is completed.
Tenants cannot be evicted on a weekend or holiday, and the Special Civil Part Officer must be present; the landlord cannot evict a tenant themselves. In total, a residential tenant cannot be evicted any earlier than eight (8) calendar days after a judgment for possession has been entered. And, as mentioned above, in nonpayment of rent cases, even after the eviction has been completed, a residential tenant may be able to move back into the rental property if the tenant pays all the money due as determined by the court (including proper costs), up to three business days after the assistance program that commits to paying rent.
If you are facing eviction, you need a lawyer on your side who can help you solve your problem. That is where we come in. The attorneys at Scura, Wigfield, Heyer, Stevens & Cammarota LLP can help. Please call our offices to schedule a free consultation and hear your options.
This blog was written by Jamal Romero, Esq. and Diana Woody.
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