Before a New Jersey residential landlord may evict a tenant for reasons including nonpayment of rent, for violating a written provision of the lease or for disorderly conduct, he or she must follow the New Jersey eviction process.
A landlord must have a good reason, or just cause, for evicting or expelling a tenant. Other than for nonpayment of rent, a landlord must also serve a Notice to Quit or to Cease, though the actual eviction cannot take place without a court order.
Most evictions are for nonpayment of rent. First of all, the New Jersey eviction process allows a landlord to immediately go to court to file and serve an eviction action without having to serve a notice to the tenant in cases of nonpayment of rent unless the tenant lives in federally subsidized housing, in which case a 14-Day Notice to Quit must be first given before a suit for eviction can be filed.
Notice to Cease
A New Jersey eviction notice, however, is required in other circumstances. A Notice to Cease must be served on the tenant 3-days before filing an eviction action if the landlord is alleging disorderly conduct by the tenant. The same notice is required if the tenant has intentionally damaged or allowed the destruction or damage to the premises.
A 30-Day New Jersey eviction notice is required if the tenant has violated a rule or regulation contained in the written lease and the tenant has continued to violate the particular rule or regulation after the notice has been served. In this case, the landlord must continue to serve the notice at or before the start of a new month. If the landlord has a right-of-reentry clause in the lease, only one notice may be given. The notice must specifically reference the rule or regulation being breached and the conduct constituting the breach.
Also, if the tenant has been habitually late in paying the rent, the landlord can serve a Notice to Cease at least one month before filing a suit for eviction, advising the tenant that continued late payments will result in an eviction lawsuit.
It is illegal for a landlord to take any action to expel a tenant without a court order. Self-help measures, also called lockouts, include having someone enter the rental premises without a court order or permission of the tenant to force the tenant to move. This can include placing padlocks on the locks, changing the locks, turning off utilities, removing the tenant’s personal items or otherwise denying the tenant access. So a tenant needs to call police if these actions occur. The police will order the landlord to allow the tenant back in, return all seized items and to restore services. If the landlord does not comply, he or she could be charged with a disorderly persons offense.
Summons and Complaint
Once the tenant has failed to comply with the notice or to pay overdue rent, the next step in the New Jersey eviction process is that the landlord must file a Summons and Complaint. This is filed with the Office of the Special Civil Part Clerk in the county where the property is located. The correct information on the tenant and the reasons for the eviction must be indicated. The summons and complaint can be mailed or served personally on the tenant. The tenant is not required to submit a written answer but must appear in court on the date indicated on the summons. The landlord must take care to note that the scheduled court date must be at least 10 days after the summons has been served on the tenant.
On the scheduled court date and if the parties appear, there is an opportunity to work out a settlement. Most New Jersey courts require that the parties meet with a mediator to work out a settlement, if possible, and which must be approved by the court. In nonpayment of rent cases, for example, a payment schedule or consent agreement and judgment may also be worked out with the tenant who must agree to allow the court to issue a Warrant for Possession to the landlord without any further action if the agreement is breached.
If no settlement is reached and the tenant wishes to contest the eviction, the landlord must present proof of any alleged violations including presenting the lease, bills, rent receipt records, dishonored checks, photographs and other documents. A tenant can present the same types of evidence including witness testimony to refute the allegations or to offer any defenses. In cases of nonpayment of rent, the tenant can have the eviction dismissed by tendering the entire amount due, including court costs, by paying in cash, certified check or money order. Especially relevant, a landlord cannot refuse the payment if this happens.
If the tenant fails to appear, the landlord must ask for a Warrant of Possession from the Special Civil Part Clerk, Tenancy Section Office. After 3 days, the constable is given the Warrant to serve on the tenant. The tenant may be forcibly removed by the constable or other authorized court officer if he or she resists.
Tenant Defenses to a New Jersey Eviction
In any eviction case, the tenant may have one or several defenses available including the following:
- Improper notice was given.
- A lawyer did not prepare the summons and complaint if the landlord is a corporation.
- The landlord failed to register with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs if the tenant resides in a building containing 3 or more apartments.
- Failure to follow federally subsidized housing notice requirements.
- The eviction complaint was improperly completed.
- Rent was paid.
- No violation of the lease occurred.
- The landlord allowed the violation to continue and waived it.
- Retaliation–the tenant is being evicted for exercising a valid right such as complaining about the property’s condition to a governmental agency.
- Discrimination–A tenant may not be evicted based upon his or her race, sex, religion, creed, national origin, family status, civil union or domestic partner status, welfare status, sexual preference or disability.
Judgement for Possession
If the landlord is awarded judgment, the court will issue a Warrant for Possession in 3 business days after the judgment, not including the day the court issued the judgment. A court officer, such as the constable, serves the Warrant for Possession. A landlord has up to 30-days to request the Warrant.
Once served, the tenant has 3 business days to vacate the premises along with all personal belongings.