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We represent only landlords in eviction matters.
Tenancy law is a minefield in New Jersey. It demands strict compliance and traps the inexperienced landlord with punitive and oppressive consequences.
Registration and notice requirements, prohibitions against certain types of rental practices, security deposit regulations, municipal and state building, fire, zoning and code compliance laws and ordinances all unite to place you at risk for claims by tenants or a municipality.
Hanlon Niemann & Wright is a firm with a statewide landlord/tenant practice. Every week we’re appearing somewhere in the Superior Court(s) of New Jersey representing our many clients in matters of eviction, habitability claims, discrimination and lease violations.
Our senior partner is a recognized authority in landlord/tenant law.
Call toll-free (855) 376-5291. Ask for Mr. Niemann to discuss your landlord/tenant matter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our firm speaks frequently before state associations of landlords, mobile home park owners, operators and managers, retail and apartment owners. We represent many small and medium size landlords and property owners as well. Our senior partner is a prolific author having written numerous articles relating to landlord issues in New Jersey. On the following pages, Mr. Hanlon discusses key court cases and legal topics that landlords need information about.
An Important Message from Christopher J. Hanlon, Esq.
July 1, 2021
Warning to Landlords Before Filing More Evictions: There are Significant Changes to Consider
As I send you this we are all waiting for Gov. Murphy to give consideration to signing legislation (S3691) which has been approved by the New Jersey State Senate and New Jersey State Assembly that would significantly limit eviction remedies for certain outstanding residential rent accounts. He may sign it in the form approved by the legislature, or he may not. If he can force a change then the eviction remedy limitations I’m about to describe may expand. Because of that uncertainty you may want to hold off on filing certain evictions as they may have to be dismissed. The good news is that in recognition of the huge debt to society that landlords have paid during the pandemic, a significant amount of additional rental aid will be made available through a new Eviction Prevention Program to be administered by the State.
The legislation recognizes that as a result of the pandemic, significant unemployment has resulted among tenants and furthermore a significant number of families or households adversely impacted by this are in minority populations “victimized by systemic and structural racism”. They all need and deserve help. It is the intention of the legislature to make this help available by doing several things. This first is to limit evictions against four classes of households: “very low income households”; low-income households”; “middle income households”; and “moderate income households”. The last category of households are those with current gross annual income in excess of 50% but less than 80% of the area (typically county) median income for a household of the same size and composition. No one above that category (i.e., households making more than 80%) gets any relief. (As an example for a family of three in Monmouth County median income for a “household” (2.53 people) in 2020 was $82,265.00. 80% of that is $65,812.00. Household’s earning more than that get no relief under this law.) Your County’s median income data should be accessible on line. If you need assistance let me know.
In order for a household to have the court acknowledge that they belong in one of these categories, and therefore are deserving of protection, they must file a certification containing details required by the statute to confirm their entitled status.
The protection that persons in these qualifying categories get from the law is a ban on eviction if it could be based on their failure to pay rent during the “covered period”, i.e., March 1, 2020 through August 31, 2021. The eviction prohibition remedy is only applicable to evictions based upon failure to pay rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to pay rent increase during the “covered period”. It is not applicable to any other cause for eviction. It is the intent of the legislature that immediately upon the effective date of the law, all other types of evictions can proceed. That would not eliminate the tenancy trial ban the Supreme Court has imposed, but I, for one, believe that ban will also be lifted very soon. If the Supreme Court dovetails its reopening with this law it should be immediate so rent cases where relief will be afforded can be “adjudicated” (tenants can file income related certifications) and all other cases can proceed.
That means many types of lease enforcement cases which were not considered “emergent” under Directive 20-20 limiting trials to be conducted during the pandemic, can proceed immediately without regard to any aspect of this new law. No one in any of these protected groups can be evicted for any rent that accrued during the “covered period”. Therefore, if a qualifying certification is filed in any tenancy case that is pending or any tenancy case that gets filed before the end of the moratorium (see below), then the case will be dismissed. It will not be dismissed if they cannot certify that they belong in one of the protected groups, or if the claim is for rent that became do prior to March 1, 2020 (provided, however, if the case is not dismissed because of a rent debt that is that old, you still cannot pursue a judgment for the rent attributable to the “covered period” in that case.
One of the expressed purposes of the legislation is to limit the ability of the governor to continue the eviction lockout beyond that provided for under this statute. As indicated, all persons who can fit into any of the four groups cannot be evicted for rent accruing during the “covered period” and cannot otherwise be locked out based upon a rent related case prior to August 31, 2021. For persons in the lower three groups, which means those persons who earn Less than 50% of the median household income for the county the property is located in, further relief is available -the eviction ban for them is extended until December 31, 2021. You can still get a judgment for possession against them on a rent related case for rent which comes due after September 1, 2021, but the execution of the warrant is stayed by virtue of this statute (if it gets signed in this form).
The law specifically acknowledges that any and all rent that is due and owing can be considered a “civil debt”. There is no limitation on a landlord’s ability to sue their tenant to obtain a judgment against them based upon this unpaid rent and to proceed with whatever collection remedies are available to you. You still have a valid claim, it’s just that you cannot use pandemic related rent arrearages accrued during the covered period “as a mechanism for eviction”.
The bill has several other significant changes related to your landlord-tenant relationship. As it relates to any debt that you are owed that you can sue to collect-you cannot assign the right to collect this debt to a third-party.
As indicated the state intends to make available a significant amount of additional rental subsidies. The statute provides that should you participate in such a program, you must waive late fees. Otherwise they are collectable under normal rules.
The law limits your ability to use or deal with certain information related to unpaid “covered period rent”. You cannot report any unpaid “covered period rent” to a third party. You cannot use information related to a tenant’s failure to pay “covered period rent” should that be reflected in a credit worthiness analysis you use to consider the approval of any applicant. Don’t forget, for mobile home park landlords, if you wrongfully disapprove someone you should have two concerns-whatever claim that that person may assert against you and, any application rejection which can be argued to be “unreasonable” interferes with statutory resale rights of your existing – selling tenants.
The law increases the jurisdictional dollar amount of the lower court (special civil part) to allow suit for any amount of unpaid “covered period rent”, in order to give landlord’s access to a faster court for this purpose.
The law requires the establishment of an “Eviction Prevention Program” to administer the additional rental aid which is simultaneously being made available as part of this law. The bill contains a lot of information regarding qualification for participation in this program which will not be set forth here. Please contact me with questions.
As part of that Eviction Prevention Program, tenant applicants for aid can make an application to the Department of Community Affairs, which is administering the program, to make habitability award deductions from payments due to you if they make related complaints which will then be adjudicated by the DCA.
The DCA will be implementing forms which must be used by the courts and by landlords to address information related to this law.
In order to participate in the Eviction Prevention Program successfully, your tenants have to demonstrate a “risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability”. Therefore, the filing of eviction complaints may assist them in qualifying for obtaining aid, if the case will not otherwise be dismissed as a result of the other provisions of this law.
If you obtain rental payments after August 31, 2021, the statute provides how those payments are to be “applied” with preference being given to post “covered period rent” debt.
Based on all of the foregoing my advice is for landlord’s to continue to file rent evictions where you have reason to believe that the affected households will not qualify for protection. Unemployment benefits do qualify as income. When in doubt, there is no reason not to communicate with the tenant before you file to try to avoid wasting money on legal fee. Or, if you cannot get adequate cooperation, file the complaint to force the certification process. If there is no doubt that a tenant is going to qualify for protection filing an eviction seems to be a waste of time before September 1, 2021.
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I own several small businesses. I’m good at what I do but legal matters and dealing with lawyers and legal issues is stressful. I called Hanlon Niemann & Wright and have developed a great relationship with their lawyers and staff. They have reviewed my leases, negotiated the buyout of my former business partner, handled land use problems in a neighboring county and generally have really been there for me. I really like them personally and professionally. If you are a small business owner, give them a call.
—Mike Halsey, Middletown, NJ
Landlord-Tenant Attorney Serving These New Jersey Counties:
Monmouth County, Ocean County, Essex County, Cape May County, Camden County, Mercer County, Middlesex County,
Bergen County, Morris County, Burlington County, Union County, Somerset County, Hudson County, Passaic County