Landlords in New Jersey can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in New Jersey.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 22, 2021
Under New Jersey law, landlords need to follow strict procedures before evicting a renter from a property. Renters also have certain eviction protections. This article explains how eviction works in New Jersey and what protections renters have when facing eviction in New Jersey.
You might find this article useful if you’re a renter in New Jersey and you’re behind on rent, you’re facing eviction, or your lease is about to expire.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process of removing a renter, also called a tenant, from a rental property. The eviction process depends on the type of lease and why the landlord is evicting the tenant. Although there are differences, generally, landlords can’t complete the eviction process without a court order. Removing a tenant without a court order isn’t allowed in New Jersey. This is called self-help eviction, illegal eviction, or illegal lockout.
There are two main types of eviction in New Jersey: eviction with cause and eviction without cause. The type of eviction the landlord uses impacts how they must notify the tenant of the eviction.
Who Can Be Evicted in New Jersey?
To be evicted in New Jersey, there must be a landlord-tenant relationship between the person living in the property and the landlord. A landlord-tenant relationship is formed when someone agrees to pay a landlord rent in exchange for the right to live in the rental property.
Usually, landlord-tenant relationships are created by a written contract called a lease agreement or a rental agreement. But New Jersey recognizes verbal lease agreements as well.
Eviction proceedings only involve people living on the property with a verbal or written lease agreement. New Jersey has a separate and quicker eviction process to remove people living in the property without permission (often called squatters or trespassers). This process is called ejectment.
If your landlord is wrongfully accusing you of being a trespasser or has filed an ejectment action against you, contact a lawyer immediately.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, tenants can be evicted from their rental property for the following reasons:
Nonpayment of rent
Often paying rent late
Repeatedly acting in a disorderly manner, meaning the tenant is disturbing the peace and quiet of other tenants
Damaging the property
Substantially violating or breaching the landlord’s rules and regulations
Substantially violating the terms of the lease agreement
If the building is going to be demolished for health and safety reasons
Tenants can also be evicted from their property once their lease agreement expires. Generally, landlords expect tenants to move out of the property by the time their lease expires. If the tenant doesn’t leave, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit to remove them.
How much notice and whether an eviction notice is required depends on the reason for eviction.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
Nonpayment of rent and late payment of rent are common reasons for eviction. But in New Jersey, the law treats nonpayment of rent and late rent differently. If a tenant is not paying rent, the landlord can typically file an eviction action without providing notice.
Rent is typically considered not paid, or missing, the day after it’s due. But if the landlord accepts late payment, then it’s not considered late. A landlord can still evict the tenant for habitually making late payments, but they must give written notice. When a tenant habitually makes late payments on rent, the landlord must give the tenant a one-month notice before filing an eviction action in court.
Lease Expiration or Termination
In New Jersey, to evict a tenant, the landlord has to end the lease. A lease can end either by expiration or termination. In both cases, the landlord is alleging that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property. Still, expiration and termination are different.
When a lease expires, it means that it has ended because it has reached the end of the term of the lease. If the tenant doesn’t renew or extend the lease, then the landlord can file an eviction action.
When a landlord terminates the lease, they’re ending the lease before it was supposed to end. Landlords need to have a legal reason to terminate a lease. Common reasons include substantial violations of the lease agreement, destruction of the property, and habitual disorderly conduct.
The New Jersey Eviction Process
Once the landlord has decided to evict a tenant, they need to follow certain procedures governed by New Jersey’s eviction law.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
To start the eviction process in New Jersey, the first thing a landlord needs to do is terminate the lease by giving the tenant written notice. Though notice isn’t required in some cases.
When isn’t notice required?
Notice isn’t required when the landlord wants to file an eviction action after the expiration of the lease for a fixed term (such as a one-year lease). Notice is generally not required when the eviction is for nonpayment of rent, but there are exceptions. Exceptions include if the tenant is in federally subsidized housing, the tenant is month-to-month, or the landlord usually accepts late rent.
Notice To Cease
In some cases, the landlord must give the tenant a notice to cease before providing a notice to quit. The notice to cease is similar to a warning. It demands that the tenant cease, or stop, the conduct that violates the lease or property rules. Common violations that require a notice to cease include disorderly conduct, habitual late rent payments, and lease violations.
Three-Day Notice To Quit
The landlord must deliver a three-day notice to quit if they’re terminating the lease for one of the following reasons:
Civil court action holding tenant responsible for involvement in criminal activities
Conviction of a drug offense committed on the property
Conviction of assaulting or threatening the landlord
Conviction of theft of property
Damage to the property
The tenancy is based on employment (meaning the employer-provided housing as an employment benefit)
One Month Notice To Quit
The landlord must give the tenant a one month notice to quit if the reason for the eviction is one of the following:
Habitual late rent payment
Violations of the lease agreement or rules and regulations that the tenant agreed to be bound by in writing
Failure to pay a rent increase
For a full list of New Jersey’s notice requirements, read the New Jersey Department of Community Affair’s Grounds for an Eviction Bulletin. When notice is required, the landlord must either give the notice directly to the tenant or leave a copy at the tenant’s residence with a family member who’s older than 14 years old. If neither option is available, the landlord must post the notice to the front door of the rental property.
Once the landlord has provided the necessary notice, they can file an eviction lawsuit, called an eviction complaint, with the Office of the Special Civil Part Clerk in the county where the property is located. To properly file the complaint, the landlord must attach any required notice to the complaint.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
After the landlord files the eviction action with the court, you can expect the following to happen.
1. The tenant is notified of the lawsuit.
Once the eviction lawsuit is filed, the landlord needs to serve the tenant with the complaint and summons. Service is the formal process of notifying a party in a lawsuit (in this case the tenant) with court documents. The summons is a document that notifies the tenant of the date and location of the initial hearing. In New Jersey, tenants can’t submit a written response to the lawsuit. They must go to the hearing, which usually serves as the eviction trial.
2. The tenant must attend their court date to challenge the eviction.
After the tenant has been notified of the lawsuit and the date and time of the court hearing, the next step in the eviction process is to attend the hearing date listed on the summons. If the tenant doesn’t attend the hearing, the court will likely issue a default judgment against them. If a default judgment is made against the tenant, the landlord can move forward with the eviction.
This hearing generally serves as the eviction trial. At the hearing, the landlord will present their reason for filing the eviction, along with evidence and any witnesses. Tenants will have the same opportunity to present their arguments against eviction, along with any evidence or witnesses.
In some cases, the judge may ask the landlord and tenant to try to negotiate a settlement before moving forward. If the judge orders this, the landlord and tenant will attend a settlement conference.
3. The judge issues a decision.
Once the judge has heard both parties, they will issue a judgment. Judgments in eviction lawsuits are usually issued the same day as the hearing. Judgments in eviction cases are called judgments for possession.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
If you’re facing eviction, you have the right to defend yourself in the eviction trial. Unfortunately, if you fight the eviction and lose, you may need to pay for the landlord’s attorneys’ fees. If you’re facing eviction and deciding whether to fight it, reach out to an attorney as soon as possible.
As a tenant, you can present defenses or affirmative defenses. Counterclaims are not allowed in eviction actions in New Jersey. Defenses need to be raised at the eviction trial.
A regular defense to eviction is when you deny the landlord’s allegations. For example, the landlord may argue that you continued to pay rent late. A defense would be that you stopped paying rent late once you received the notice to cease.
An affirmative defense is when you argue that you were justified in your actions. For example, a landlord may file an eviction action for nonpayment of rent. An affirmative defense would be that you withheld rent because the rental unit was not habitable, meaning that you couldn’t safely live in the property. Also, if utilities that the landlord had agreed to pay were about to be shut off, you can make those payments and argue that rent was withheld to cover unpaid utility bills.
For a full list of common defenses, visit the New Jersey Court’s Landlord/Tenant Self Help page.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
At the conclusion of the trial, if the court sides with the landlord, they will give the landlord a judgment of possession and order the tenant to leave the rental property. If the tenant doesn’t leave, the landlord will ask the court to issue a warrant of removal. The warrant allows a representative of the court called a Special Civil Part Officer to physically remove the tenant from the property. This process of removing the tenant is called execution of the eviction. Execution can’t be carried out by the landlord themselves.
Once a judgment is entered, tenants have a few options, including:
Appealing: Tenants can appeal their eviction. Because appeals are often complicated, tenants should seek legal assistance from a landlord-tenant attorney.
Paying all back rent and fees due: If tenants pay all rent and other fees or costs due within three business days of the judgment for possession being issued, they can avoid eviction.
Asking for more time to move out: Tenants can also ask for more time to move out by asking the court to issue an Order for Orderly Removal. This court order can give tenants up to seven more days.
Asking for a hardship stay: If the tenant will be able to pay the back rent and fees they owe, but they aren’t able to pay until more than three days after the judgment, they can ask for a hardship stay. A hardship stay can last up to six months.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in New Jersey
If you’re facing an eviction, you can take steps to defend yourself or to potentially stop the eviction action.
Prepare evidence and witnesses for the hearing.
At the hearing, you’ll have an opportunity to present evidence and witnesses. To make sure you’re prepared for the hearing, collect any and all documents, photos, videos, and any other evidence supporting any claims. This also includes any text messages or social media messages or records.
It's also often a good idea to have a municipal building inspector visit the property and issue a report about the property’s condition.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the eviction hearing.
Missing the eviction hearing can cause you to lose the eviction lawsuit. So if you absolutely can’t attend the hearing listed in the summons, contact the court clerk and ask for a continuance or ask that the court be alerted that you won’t be attending. The number for the clerk should be on the summons.
Keep detailed records, especially of any payments you make.
Keep detailed records of everything that happens. This is especially important if you decide to pay missing rent at any point in the process. By keeping detailed records of who you pay and when you prevent the landlord from lying at the hearing.
Community proactively with your landlord, especially if you’re having a conflict that could lead to an eviction lawsuit. By reaching out early, you may be able to negotiate an agreement before the conflict leads to a lawsuit.
Avoiding a lawsuit is important. The mere filing of an eviction lawsuit can prevent you from getting rental housing in the future. If the landlord does file an eviction action, you can still negotiate an agreement to avoid a judgment. Your landlord may agree to give you more time to move out or allow you to continue to rent the property under certain circumstances. Regardless of what you and your landlord agree on, make sure to keep it in writing and signed by both you and the landlord.
Tenant Resources in New Jersey
New Jersey Bar Association Referral Service: The state bar's referral services can help you contact a landlord-tenant lawyer in your county to represent you in court.
Legal Services of New Jersey: LSNJ provides legal services to low-income residents of New Jersey. Eligibility for legal representation depends on your household income level.
NJcourts.gov Rental Assistance: This page provides information about New Jersey's emergency rental assistance program and other information related to the impact of the coronavirus on landlord-tenant relations and the eviction process.
New Jersey COVID-19 Eviction Protection Page: New Jersey's COVID-19 eviction protection page has information for renters about their tenant rights during the pandemic. You can also fill out New Jersey's eviction prevention self-certification form. The form is intended to prevent evictions and homelessness during the pandemic by providing renters with information about their rights.
COVID-19 Eviction Moratoriums
In March 2020, Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order establishing an eviction moratorium. The moratorium stopped evictions in New Jersey during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about New Jersey's eviction moratoriums, visit NJCourts.gov's COVID-19 One-Stop help page.