A New Jersey residential lease agreement is a contractual arrangement between a tenant and landlord that is regulated and governed by local, state and federal laws. Many of these laws deal with the rights and obligations of the parties and the protections afforded both tenants and landlords.
You may have an oral lease for the rental of property but for a lease of any term other than a week, it is always advised to have the arrangement reduced to writing. Under state law, though, it must be in writing if the lease term is 3 years or more.
New Jersey law also has an attorney review period of 3 days after delivery of a New Jersey residential lease agreement that is prepared by a real estate salesperson or broker who is licensed by the New Jersey Real Estate Commission. It becomes legally binding after 3 days unless an attorney objects to the lease.
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Landlords may not discriminate in renting or in how they treat current tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, familial status, age, ancestry and disability.
Contents of the Lease Agreement
All lease agreements do need certain provisions to ensure it complies with all applicable laws. Your New Jersey residential lease agreement should have the following:
- Name of the landlord and address to where rental payments, notices and service of documents are to be made
- Names of the tenants
- Description of the premises
- State if it is a rental agreement or a fixed term, which is typically one year
- Lease term
- Rent amount, due date, grace period if any
- If rent control, additional information may be needed as required under local ordinances
- Late fee and fee for bounced check though advise a tenant on SSI that a 5-day grace period is required before the late fee charge is imposed
- Security deposit—no more than one and one-half the rent charged
- Disclose to the tenant the name and address of the financial institution where the deposit is located, the type of account and interest rate
- Tenant obligations to maintain a clean and sanitary unit and to notify landlord regarding hazards or needed repairs
- Restrictions on illegal conduct and disruptive behavior that annoys or offends other tenants or neighbors
- No use of premises for commercial business
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs or to show the unit upon reasonable notice
- Responsibility for utilities
- Subletting clause
- Pet clause
- Smoking clause
- Right of Reentry clause
- Parking and use of common areas
- Payment of attorney’s fees expended for nonpayment of rent or other violation of lease
- Pursuant to federal law- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
- Disclosure if rental unit is in a flood zone (not applicable to buildings of 2 or fewer units or owner-occupied properties of 3 or fewer units)
- Unless in buildings of 2 or fewer units or owner-occupied properties of 3 or fewer units, distribution to tenants of statement of legal rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords from the Department of Consumer Affairs
- Tenant’s right to request window guards if a child 10 years old or younger is living there or will be regularly there for a substantial period of time
If you are in a rent control district, there are different rules regarding some of these provisions. Consult with an attorney if you are unsure about these regulations and how they apply to your rental units and tenants.
Landlords may only require a security deposit up to one and one-half times the monthly rent. You can charge an additional amount yearly but it may be no more than 10% of the current security deposit.
A tenant may not request that the deposit be used toward unpaid rent unless the landlord consents but this would decrease any amounts to be withheld for damages. The deposit is used to pay for any damage caused by the tenant that is not ordinary wear and tear or deterioration.
You must return the security deposit to the tenant within 30-days after the unit is vacated but the time is drastically shortened to 5 days if a flood, fire, evacuation or condemnation occurs.
Interest on the deposit must be paid either in annual interest payments or applied as credit toward the payment of rent due. New Jersey’s law on security deposits do not apply toward buildings of 2 or fewer units or owner-occupied properties of 3 or fewer units unless the tenant advises the landlord within 30-days of the right to invoke the law.
If your unit is rent controlled, there may be different rules regarding security deposits depending on local ordinances.
A rental agreement, or that which is not a fixed-term lease, that is more than one-month automatically becomes a month-to-month lease upon expiration of the lease if the landlord accepts the next months’ rent. All other provisions of the original lease remain in force until a new lease is signed. A landlord or tenant must give 30-days’ written notice to vacate or terminate a month-to-month lease. If the tenant breaches the lease by not vacating at the end of the lease term and after receipt of a notice to quit, the tenant may be subject to damages of twice the rent owed.
For yearly or longer leases, the notice is 60 or 90-days.
Breaking the Lease
A tenant is allowed to break the lease under certain circumstances prescribed in New Jersey statutes:
- Death of a spouse
- Incapacitating illness or accident leading to loss of income or the unit is not accessible to the tenant’s disability
- Tenant is 62 years of age or older and is moving to an assisted living facility, nursing home or continuing care community or low to moderate income housing
- Tenant is entering the military or being deployed to active duty and the unit was leased prior to entry or receiving orders provide 30-days written notice and verification of such service or orders is submitted—tenant is entitled to return of security deposit
- Constructive eviction
- Imminent threat of physical harm to tenant or child living within the unit if continuing to live in the unit, upon 30-days written notice—rent prorated to date of lease termination
Nonpayment of Rent
A New Jersey landlord need not give a tenant written notice before beginning eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent. However, if the tenant has been habitually late, then then the landlord must give a Notice to Cease, which acts as a warning. Should the tenant continue to be late, then a 30-day written notice or Notice to Quit must be served before beginning eviction proceedings. If the tenant pays the rent in full before a court decision is issued, then the eviction proceedings will be dismissed.
Other Lease Violations
For breach of the peace, or disorderly conduct that offends or annoys other tenants such as habitually playing loud music or partying too long and too loudly, the landlord must first serve a Notice to Cease. If the conduct continues, then the landlord may serve a 3-Days’ Notice to Quit. The 3-Day Notice may also be served for damage to the premises but without having to first serve the Notice to Cease.
For other lease violations such as subletting or having a pet without permission, the landlord must first serve the Notice to Cease before giving 30-day’s written notice.
If the tenant vacates before the term expiration, the tenant remains liable for the rent until the lease term expires or for the costs expended by the landlord for re-leasing the unit. Landlords have to mitigate their damages by making a reasonable effort to find a new tenant. If the landlord had to rent the premises at a lower rate, the tenant is liable for the difference until the end of the original lease term.
A landlord may be liable for damages to the tenant for evicting a tenant within 90 days of the tenant having exercised a civil right such as joining a tenant’s union or for complaining to state or county authorities about the failure of the landlord to adhere to obligations to provide a habitable premises. Damages may also be imposed if the landlord raises the rent within this 90-day period should the tenant have exercised any of these rights.
No Self-Help Eviction
A landlord may not attempt to evict a tenant without a court order. This includes changing the locks or shutting off utilities. Any unlawful entry into the premises can lead to the landlord being liable for damages to the tenant.
Right to Withhold Rent
New Jersey residential tenants may withhold rent if the tenant sends written notice to the landlord for failure to provide or maintain essential utilities or to repair an unsafe condition. The tenant can bring an action to have the court order the landlord to make the required repairs or provide the services and to use the rent to pay for the repairs. The tenant can also self-deduct from the rent provided adequate notice was given and the landlord failed to make the repairs within a reasonable time.
Rent Control Ordinances
There are numerous communities in New Jersey with rent control ordinances that control how much you may increase the rent and how as well as special eviction procedures. Review the rent control laws in these towns or cities to ensure you are following the proper procedures for your New Jersey residential lease agreement.