Landlord/Tenant

  • Residential tenants in New Jersey have certain rights. They cannot be evicted by anyone other than a Special Civil Part Officer.
  • The landlord must first file a landlord/tenant lawsuit in the Special Civil Part of the Superior Court and get a judgment for possession from the court before an officer can be directed to evict any residential tenant.
  • Tenants have the right to appear in court on the scheduled trial date to defend themselves against a possible eviction. Those cases are heard in the county courthouse where the rental property is located.

Reasons why tenants can be evicted:

  • They fail to pay rent.
  • They are often late in paying rent.
  • They repeatedly act in a disorderly manner.
  • They caused destruction or damage to the property.
  • They violate the terms of the lease agreement.
  • They are convicted of certain drug offenses under the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act.
  • They violate the terms of the lease agreement.
  • The landlord is required to board up or demolish the property for health and safety reasons.

Eviction for failure to pay rent:

Tenants cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent if they pay the full amount before the close of business on their scheduled trial date.

Eviction for causes other than non-payment of rent:

Landlords cannot file for an eviction, for reasons other than non-payment of rent, without first giving tenants prior written notice asking them to stop the behavior. In most cases, New Jersey law gives tenants 30 days to stop the behavior before the landlord can take further action.

The written notice or notices must be attached to the complaint when it is filed with the court.

Landlord/Tenant Laws:

There are two New Jersey statutes that apply to eviction cases. The laws differ on when and why a renter can be evicted.

See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61 et. seq. for commercial tenants (not homes) and for properties with no more than two rental unites (such as a two-family home or a three-family home if the landlord also lives in one of the units).

N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53 applies to all other residential tenants, except for hotels, motels and seasonal renters.

Ejectments:

Only legal tenants can be evicted. If you want to remove someone who does not have a lease, you will need to file for an ejectment, which is a writ of execution to remove an illegal tenant.

How to File for a Writ of Execution to Remove an Illegal Tenant

Frequently Asked Questions

Information for Tenants

If you are renting a home or an apartment in New Jersey, you have certain rights. You cannot be evicted (thrown out or locked out) without a judgment for possession from the New Jersey Superior Court.

You could be evicted if:

  • You fail to pay rent.
  • You are often late in paying rent.
  • You repeatedly act in a disorderly manner.
  • You caused destruction or damage to the property.
  • You violate the terms of the lease agreement.
  • You are convicted of certain drug offenses under the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act.
  • You violate the terms of the lease agreement.
  • The landlord is required to board up or demolish the property for health and safety reasons.

If you fail to pay rent:

If your landlord is suing you only because you have not paid your rent, you cannot be evicted if you pay all the money that you owe by the close of business on the day of your trial. Only cash, certified check or money order made payable to the Treasurer, State of New Jersey are acceptable. No personal checks can be accepted.

Eviction for causes other than failure to pay rent:

Landlords cannot file for an eviction, for reasons other than non-payment of rent, without first giving tenants prior written notice asking them to stop the behavior. In most cases, New Jersey law gives tenants 30 days to stop the behavior before the landlord can take further action. See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53 applies to all other residential tenants, except for hotels, motels and seasonal renters.

The written notice or notices sent to the tenant must be attached to the complaint when it is filed with the court.

Do I need a lawyer to handle my case?

A tenant or landlord that is a corporation or limited liability partnership must be represented by a New Jersey attorney in all matters filed in the Landlord/Tenant section of Superior Court.

Even if you are not incorporated, it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services.

Legal Services of New Jersey maintains a directory of regional legal services offices.

The New Jersey State Bar Association also maintains a list of county lawyer referral services that might be helpful.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court

If you get a court summons

You are the defendant in a court case. As the tenant (defendant), you must go to court to defend against the landlord’s claims against you. You cannot submit a written response.

Preparing for trial

What to bring

In all cases, you should bring to court all the money the landlord says that you owe even if you do not agree with the landlord. If the court decides that you legally owe the rent, it does not matter why you did not pay. An illness, a lost job or unexpected medical expenses are not legal reasons for you not to pay your rent. If the court says that you owe the money and the landlord does not want to work out a payment plan with you, then you must pay the full amount due by the close of business on the day you go to court. If you do not, the court could issue a judgment for possession. A judgment for possession is the first step toward an eviction.

Only cash, certified check or money order made payable to the Treasurer, State of New Jersey are acceptable. No personal checks can be accepted.

You also will need:

Documents:

Bring to court all records that will help you prove your case, such as:

  • rent receipts, cancelled checks, money orders;
  • your lease, or a photocopy of your lease;
  • letters and notices to, or from, the landlord;
  • photographs;
  • any other documents that you believe will help you defend the case being made against you.

**Photographs, emails and text messages must be printed before you come to court.

If you have not paid rent because the landlord did not make repairs or maintain the property, you must prove to the court that the problems are serious and that they are affecting your ability to live in the unit. You should set the rent money aside in case you are ordered to pay it on the day of your trial.

Witnesses:

You can bring witnesses to help you prove your case; the court will not accept a written statement signed by a witness.

If you are coming to court without a lawyer, you will have to question your witnesses. Prepare any questions you will ask your witnesses before you go to court.

What to expect at the trial:

  1. If you do not come to court, the case will be defaulted in favor of the landlord. This could result in you being evicted.
  2. If the landlord does not come to court, the case will be dismissed .
  3. If you both come to court, you and the landlord could be asked to work with a mediator to try to settle your case.
    1. If you and the landlord come to an agreement, the mediator will complete the appropriate form. The judge must review and approve the forms before the court will accept your agreement.
    2. OR

    3. If you do not come to an agreement, the judge will hear your case. The judge either will grant or deny a judgment for possession. A judgment for possession is the first step toward eviction.

Enforcement of Agreements:

You must follow the agreement you signed in court, or you will be at risk of eviction.

If you believe that the landlord is not abiding by the agreement you signed in court, you must write and submit a certification and provide the landlord a copy of this certification. If the landlord believes that you are not abiding by the agreement, the landlord must do the same thing.

A certification is a statement, written, sworn to and signed by you, that explains why you believe the landlord has violated your agreement. At the end of your statement, you must include the following text:

“I certify that the foregoing statements made by me are true. I am aware that if any of the foregoing statements made by me are willfully false, I am subject to punishment.”

Make sure you sign and date the document below the statement.

Mail or drop off the signed certification with the court and then send a copy by regular and certified mail to your landlord. If your landlord has an attorney, you can send the certification by regular mail to the attorney. You also can choose to have it hand-delivered to the attorney’s office instead of mailing it.

Additional Information for Tenants in Eviction Cases

Information for Landlords

Residential tenants in New Jersey have certain rights. They cannot be evicted (thrown out or locked out) without a judgment from the New Jersey Superior Court.

Some reasons a landlord might file a complaint in the Landlord/Tenant section of Superior Court:

  • The tenant failed to pay rent.
  • The tenant is often late in paying rent.
  • The tenant has repeatedly acted in a disorderly manner.
  • The tenant has caused destruction or damage to the property willfully or through gross negligence.
  • The tenant has violated the terms of the lease or other document.
  • The tenant has been convicted of a drug offense.

In most cases, a landlord must give a tenant a written notice to cease, or stop, their disorderly conduct or other violation. The landlord can only more forward with an eviction if the tenant continues the conduct after receiving the notice to stop.

Also, complaints other than non-payment of rent generally require notice ending the tenancy. These notices must be attached to the complaint at the time of filing. Under federal law, public housing residences require the landlord to send a copy of the complaint and any eviction notice to the Public Housing Authority (“PHA”) on or before the complaint is filed in court.

Unpaid rent:

If the landlord files a complaint in Superior Court, the tenant cannot be evicted if all of the outstanding rent owed is paid by the close of business on the day of the trial.

If you are successful in court in getting a judgment of possession , the tenant can be evicted. The judgment of possession does not entitle you to the outstanding rent. If you want to seek back rent after the judgment of possession is ordered, you must file a claim in the regular Special Civil Part or Small Claims section to collect the outstanding rent.

Do I need a lawyer to handle my case?

A landlord that is a corporation or limited liability partnership must be represented by a New Jersey attorney in all matters filed in the Landlord/Tenant section of Superior Court.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court

How to File a Complaint in Landlord/Tenant Court

  1. Complete Forms
    1. Verified Complaint
      You must provide the correct name(s) and address(es) for each person named as a defendant. Also, you must identify the defendant(s) as individuals, proprietorship, partnership or corporation.
    2. Tenancy Summons and Return of Service

    Do not include personal identifiers such as social security numbers on the copy of the documents that you file with the court. Complete the forms, make a copy, and then redact the personal identifiers on the copies you will submit to the court.

  2. Attach the filing fee or request a fee waiver:
    • One defendant: $50
    • Each additional defendant: $5
    • Service fee: You must pay a mileage fee for delivery of the court papers by a Special Civil Part officer. Court staff will tell you the exact mileage fee when you file your case. Payment can be made by cash or by a check payable to Treasurer, State of New Jersey.
  3. Check the forms to make sure they are complete. Sign the forms.
  4. For cases involving something other than non-payment of rent, include all notices that you have sent to the tenant and that you plan to rely upon at the trial.
  5. Make copies of all of the documents you will submit to the court and put one copy in a safe place. You will need a copy for yourself and two copies for each tenant named as a defendant in your complaint.
  6. Check that you have redacted the personal identifiers on the copies you prepare for court.
  7. Mail or deliver the complaint, the summons, the certification and the fee to the Superior Court where the rental property is located.

Once your case is filed you will receive a postcard with information about the date and time of your trial.

Additional Information for Landlords

Preparing for Trial

What to bring

Documents:

Bring to court all records that will help you prove your case, such as:

  • rent receipts, estimates, repair bills;
  • dishonored checks from the tenant(bounced checks);
  • letters and notices to, or from, the tenant(s);
  • photographs; and
  • any other documents that you believe will help you defend the case being made against you.

**Photographs, emails and text messages must be printed before you come to court.

Witnesses:

You can bring witnesses to help you prove your case; the court will not accept a written statement signed by a witness.

If you are coming to court without a lawyer, you will have to question your witnesses. Prepare any questions you will ask your witnesses before you go to court.

What to expect at the trial:

  1. If you do not come to court, the case will be dismissed.
  2. If the tenant does not come to court, the case probably will be defaulted in your favor.
  3. If you both come to court, you and the tenant could be asked to work with a mediator to try to settle your case.
    1. If you and the tenant come to an agreement, the mediator will complete the appropriate form. The judge must review and approve the forms before the court will accept your agreement.
    2. OR

    3. If you do not come to an agreement, the judge will hear your case. The judge either will grant or deny a judgment for possession. A judgment for possession is the first step toward eviction.

Read the instructions that the judge will give in court

Judgments for Possession/Warrants of Removal

If a judgment for possession is entered, the landlord can take steps to have the tenant evicted. If the tenant does not leave the home, a court officer, not the landlord, will serve the tenant(s) with a warrant of removal. When tenants are served with a warrant of removal , they must leave the home within three business days. If they do not, the landlord can ask the court officer to evict them.

After Judgment for Possession

There are still things that a tenant can do after the court date that could change the terms of the eviction. The tenants must notify their landlord if they decide to pursue any of these actions with the court:

  • Tenants can request an Order for Orderly Removal, which grants them more time to move out. This could give them up to seven calendar days to move.
  • They can request a hardship stay. This could stop the eviction for up to six months. Tenants cannot apply for a hardship stay unless they pay all the money they owe to the landlord, plus any costs. If they pay all the money they owe and they are granted a hardship stay, they must still comply with the original lease and pay all of the rent during the stay.
  • Tenants also can apply to the court to vacate (cancel) the judgment for possession. This request is not granted often and requires unique legal circumstances.

Tenants should contact the Special Civil Part Office as soon as possible to apply for any of the above.

Illegal Evictions (Lockouts)

How to File for the Return to Your Rental Premises

A landlord cannot evict tenants or remove their belongings from a rental home without first getting a judgment for possession and then a warrant of removal from the court. Only a Special Civil Part officer can perform the eviction on behalf of a landlord.

It is illegal for the landlord to force a tenant out by changing the locks, padlocking the doors or by shutting off gas, water or electricity.

A landlord also cannot take possession of a tenant’s personal belongings or furniture to try to force them to pay rent. Tenants who have been locked out of their home illegally can file a complaint at the county courthouse. In the complaint, the tenant can request to be allowed back into the home. They also can request monetary damages.

Mediation

It is important for you to come to your scheduled court date. Even if you think that you will lose your case, you might be able to work out a settlement through mediation.

Mediation is often the best solution, because it allows both parties the chance to compromise. Through mediation, each party can get something that they want out of the case. For example, even if a tenant is facing eviction, the tenant and landlord might be able to work out a plan that will give the tenant more time to move out.

A court mediator can work with both the landlord and tenant to come to an agreement. If they agree on a settlement, the mediator will help them submit the correct form to the judge.

If the judge approves the settlement, the case is over and the landlord and tenant can move forward.

You have nothing to lose by trying to settle with the other party.

If the landlord and tenant do not come to an agreement, the judge will hear the case.

Residential Security Deposit

Maximum security deposit is 1 ½ months’ rent.

In New Jersey, a landlord can only charge up to 1½ months’ rent as a security deposit. The landlord requires the security deposit in order to pay for any damage done to the unit or to cover unpaid rent after the tenant leaves. The landlord must deposit the security deposit into an interest bearing account within 30 days of receiving the money from the tenant.

Security deposit must be kept in an interest-bearing bank account.

The landlord must notify the tenant in writing, within 30 days of receiving the deposit, the following information:

  1. The name and address of the bank where the money has been deposited.
  2. The amount of the deposit.
  3. The type of account.
  4. The current interest rate of that account.

The landlord must send the tenant an updated statement providing the same information on an annual basis, or within 30 days if

  • The deposit is moved to another account or bank;
  • The bank merges with another bank; or
  • The rental property is sold.

The interest must be paid or credited to the tenant each year.

The landlord must either pay you the amount of the annual interest in cash, or must credit the amount of the annual interest toward the payment of rent.

The security deposit cannot be touched until the tenant moves out.

The landlord cannot deduct any money from a tenant’s security deposit until after the tenant moves out of the home. If the landlord wants to use the security deposit to pay for damage or for unpaid rent, they must notify the tenant in writing within 30 days after the tenant move out of the home. The tenant must provide the landlord with their new address so that the landlord can contact them about your security deposit.

If the tenant owes more money than the amount of the security deposit, or if the damage caused by the tenant was beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord can sue the tenant in court for the additional amount.

If the tenant believes they landlord kept all or part of the security deposit without good cause, the tenant can sue the landlord for security deposits up to $5,000 in the Small Claims section of Superior Court. Lawsuits for security deposits greater than $5,000 must be filed in the Special Civil Part of Superior Court.

Foreclosed Rental Properties

A residential tenant will not be forced to move because the property is in foreclosure if the tenant has a valid lease and is in good standing. The purchase at the sheriff’s sale will take over the building subject to the tenants’ rights.

If the property they are renting goes into foreclosure, tenants should receive the Notice to Residential Tenants of Rights During Foreclosure.

Glossary of Terms

Answer:   An Answer is a written response that explains why the defendant thinks they do not owe the money to the plaintiff in a court case.

Appeal:  Parties in a court case have the right to an appeal by applying to a higher court to reverse the decision of a lower court.

Certification:  A certification is a written statement made to the court when you file papers with the court, swearing that the information contained in the papers is true to the best of your knowledge.

Complaint:  A complaint is a document in which you briefly tell the court the facts in your case and the relief you want the court to grant.

Counterclaim:  A Counterclaim is a defendant’s written explanation to the court about they believe they are entitled to relief in the case.

Damages:  The amount of money the plaintiff sues for in a lawsuit is called damages.

Default:  When the defendant does not appear in court to respond to the complaint or does not file an answer, a judge may order in your favor. This is called a default. Also, if you do not show up in court, the court may dismiss your case.

Defendant:  The defendant is the person or business against whom a case is filed.

Dismiss:  If a lawsuit is dismissed by a judge, there is no longer a court case. This can happen if the plaintiff does not serve the papers to the defendant properly, fails to appear at a scheduled court event, or otherwise fails to follow through with their case.

Ejectment:  An ejectment is a lawsuit seeking to remove an unlawful occupant who is neither a legal tenant nor an owner of a property.

Eviction:  An eviction is the removal of a renter performed by a Special Civil Part officer during court business hours. It can be performed only after a judgment for possession and a warrant of removal is used and served on the tenant by a Special Civil Part officer.

Fee waiver:  The court does not charge a filing fee for litigants who can prove that their income is no more than 150% of the current poverty level and that they have no more than $2,500 in cash and bank accounts.

File:  To file means to give the appropriate forms and fee to the court to begin the court’s consideration of your request.

Judgment:  A judgment is the official decision of a court in a case.

Judgment for possession:  A landlord can go to court to seek a judgment for possession to evict tenants who have failed to pay rent, fail to abide by a lease agreement, or other reasons allowed by law.

Litigant:  A litigant is person in a court case.

Motion:  A motion is a written request in which you ask the court to issue an order, or to change an order it has already issued.

Order:  An order is a signed paper from the judge telling someone they must do something.

Party:  A party is a person, business, governmental agency, etc., involved in a court action.

Personal Identifier:  A personal identifier is any personal information that is unique to an individual, including Social Security number, driver’s license number, license plate number, insurance policy number, active bank account and credit card numbers. This information could be used to steal someone’s identity or their money. All documents filed with the court are available for public inspection. Therefore no personal identifiers should be included on documents filed with the court.

Plaintiff:  The plaintiff is the party who starts the lawsuit.

Redact:  To redact is to remove or to hide parts of a written document.

Return Date:  The return date is the date the plaintiff and defendant are told to appear in court.

Service:Service is mailing or delivering copies of your papers to the lawyer for the other party or to the other party directly if they have no lawyer.

Service of Process:Service of Process is the official delivery of the papers to the other party.

Summons:  A summons is the paper that notifies the defendant that he or she is being sued and briefly explains the steps they need to take once they have received this notice.

Tenant:  A Tenant is a person or business that entered into a lawful agreement with a landlord or property owner that gives them the right to peaceful possession of a habitable rental property.

Transcript:  A transcript is a written record of everything that was said during a court hearing.

Testimony:Testimony is a statement given in court that gives evidence about a case.

Warrant of Removal:  A warrant of removal is an order by the court that allows an eviction of a tenant at the request of the landlord.

Writ:  A writ is an document issued by a court that orders a person, business or organization to do something.

Common Defenses in Eviction Cases

There are many ways that tenants can defend themselves in eviction cases. Both tenants and landlords should research these issues in order to prepare for court.Legal Services of New Jersey has a helpful website to get you started.

Some Common Defenses

Habitability

A rental property must be “habitable,” meaning that people can live in it safely and comfortably. In New Jersey this is also called the Marini Doctrine. Common problems that affect habitability:

  1. Lack of heat
  2. Mold, bedbugs, or rodents
  3. No running water, no hot water, or a toilet that doesn’t work
  4. Lead paint, broken windows, unfinished floors
  5. Broken appliances such as a stove or a refrigerator
  6. Unsafe common areas such as a lobby, stairs or elevator
  7. Anything else that makes it hard for a tenant to live there normally.

A tenant might withhold rent because of a habitability issue. But habitability cannot be used to avoid eviction for a pattern of late rent payments, noise or pet violations, or any other reason the landlord might give for an eviction.

To make a habitability defense, a tenant must:

  1. Be able to pay the full amount of rent due on the scheduled court date. They might be asked to give the rent money to the court to hold until the case is over.
  2. Be able to show the court, with photos or other evidence, that some part of the living space is uninhabitable.
  3. Be able to show the court that they told the landlord about the problem and gave the landlord a chance to fix it.
  4. Be able to show the court that they are not the cause of the issue. If the tenant broke the window, for example, that cannot be the reason for not paying rent.

Unregistered Rental Property

The property might not be registered as a rental property. If the landlord lives on the property and there are three units or fewer, the property must be registered with the Community Development Authority.

If the landlord does not live on the property OR the property includes more than three units, the property must be registered with the Bureau of Housing Inspection.

The case might be dismissed if the landlord cannot prove that the property is registered. The judge could also decide to delay the case to give the landlord time to register the property.

Illegal Tenancy

A tenant could argue that the tenancy is illegal. Reasons could include:

  1. The property is condemned.
  2. There are zoning violations. For example, the property has been divided into more units than it was approved to have.
  3. The property violates other laws. For example, it might be in a basement with only one escape route.

Abatement

The judge court decide to give the tenant an “abatement,” meaning the tenant does not owe the full amount of the rent because of a problem with the property. For example, the tenant is paying for a 2-bedroom apartment but one of the bedrooms has no windows and is not a real room.

Section 8 Subsidized Housing

A landlord cannot evict a tenant without first telling any public agencies that subsidize the tenant’s rent. The landlord must attach proof of this notice when the eviction complaint is filed with the court. The case could be dismissed if the landlord did not notify the agency about the case.