The Jersey City Rent Control Ordinance requires landlords to provide new tenants with specific information. At the start of each new tenancy a landlord must provide a tenant with a "rental statement" that informs of the tenant of "rent of the prior tenant and notification of the existence of the rent registration law." The point is pretty simple: If a new tenant finds out her rent is three times what the old tenant paid, she's more likely to question the legality of the rent. An interesting question presented itself a few weeks ago: What if the owner was the "prior tenant?" What notice is a tenant occupying an apartment after the owner entitled to?
Northern New Jersey cities like Hoboken and Jersey City maintain sophisticated rent control ordinances. Rent control ordinances are designed to provide landlord's a "fair" return on investment while keeping urban housing rents affordable. When a tenant is charged an illegal rent (a rent in excess of what rent control ordinance provides) most ordinances require a landlord to give the tenant a credit towards future rent. The credit is the amount of the overcharge per month for as many months as the tenant was overcharged. But, the time length of the overcharge is not unlimited. Jersey City and Hoboken have two very different approaches to determining the amount of a rent control overcharge. The distinction lies in the difference between a statute of limitation and a statute of repose.
Local rent control laws are an important part of maintaining an affordable housing supply in densely populated areas. Prior posts explained the basics of rent control and some nuances between cities. Generally, tenants who pay rent in excess of the rent control rent (the "legal rent") have two remedies. The first is an application to the local rent control board (sometimes called a rent leveling board) for a credit. The credit allows a tenant to pay a reduced rent going forward until the tenant "catches up" with the overcharge. The second remedy is much more powerful. Violations of rent control ordinances are actionable under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (the "CFA"). Under the CFA, a rent control overcharge may entitle a tenant to triple damages and mandatory attorney's fees. The principle that a rent control violation is also a consumer fraud violation comes from an Appellate Division decision called Wozniak v. Pennella, 373 N.J. Super. 445 (App. Div. 2004).
The dynamics of dealing with a NJ illegal apartment can be tricky. In general, an illegal occupancy is one that violates the local zoning or building code laws. For example, in Jersey City many illegal apartments are an additional third rental unit in a two family zone. When a landlord seeks to evict a tenant from this illegal occupancy, the landlord must pay six times the monthly rent to the tenant. Usually, the relocation benefit comes up in the context of an eviction for nonpayment. When the tenant finds out his/her apartment is illegal, the first step is to stop paying the rent. By this time the landlord is cited by zoning or building code enforcement for maintaining the illegal occupancy. When the tenant stops paying the rent, the landlord files an eviction for nonpayment case. Once everyone shows up in court, what happens next?
Rent-control ordinances across New Jersey control the legal rent a landlord is entitled to from each rental unit. Most rent-control ordinances provide landlords an opportunity to raise the rent between tenants. As noted in a prior post, Jersey City's rent-control ordinance does not provide for such "vacancy decontrol." The absence of vacancy decontrol raises interesting questions in the context of eviction for nonpayment proceedings. To what extent must a landlord show compliance with rent control when alleging a tenant failed to pay rent "due and owing?" If the Landlord can't show compliance with rent control should the complaint be dismissed? These questions came up in a case in Hudson County a short time ago. The outcome has important implications for tenants and landlords across New Jersey.
New Jersey is one of only four states that provide for rent control. Jersey City is one of 98 municipalities that enacted local rent-control laws. While Hoboken and Bayonne recently relaxed their rent-control ordinances, Jersey City maintains one of the State's strongest rent-control laws. Jersey City tenants should aware of the most important part of Jersey City's rent-control laws.
Hurricane Sandy left an unprecedented amount of damage throughout New Jersey. Many apartments were damaged by flood, wind and other storm damage. Unfortunately, some apartments were totally destroyed. Parts 1 and 2 of this series explained tenants' rights when an apartment is damaged. Tenants' rights are much different when an apartment is so damaged it is destroyed. In these cases, an old statute can be a useful tool.
Part 1 of this series described the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants under the warranty of habitability. Marini explains that a landlord implicitly promises to provide an apartment free of latent defects and maintained in a livable condition. While tenants have a right to a regularly maintained defect free apartment, they also have an obligation to inform the landlords of any problems and allow sufficient time for those problems to be fixed. In most cases, the repairs are made and both parties are happy. If the problems continue, tenants have a number of options to consider.
Super Storm Sandy left permanent marks on New York and New Jersey. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who suffered a loss. During difficult times, understanding accomplishes far more than contention. This is especially true when peoples' property and homes are at stake. Both landlords and tenants have certain rights and responsibilities when a property is damaged by a storm. Many times, understanding each position can resolve storm damage disputes quickly and amicably.
Generally, most NJ landlord-tenant matters settle before trial. A prior post explained the range of options available to tenants and landlords before "taking your chances with a judge." While settlement is usually the best route, sometimes a trial is unavoidable. Whether the trial is for nonpayment or other "good cause" under the Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A 2A:18-61.1., the landlord has the burden of proving his case. New Jersey Court Rule 4:37-2(b) requires that a landlord show that the facts and the law entitle him to relief (in a landlord-tenant setting, the relief is a judgment for possession). Practically, this means that the defendant-tenant, before telling the court his side of the story, can ask the court to dismiss the landlord's case. The type of eviction case determines what the landlord must show to avoid dismissal.
A prior post explained that when a tenant is illegally locked out of her apartment, she may pursue an unlawful detainer action under New Jersey's Unlawful Detainer statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:39-1 et. seq. An unlawful detainer case proceeds in two stages. At the first stage, the court will determine whether the tenant had a right to possession of an apartment and whether that possession was wrongfully denied. Secondly, the court will determine what damages the tenant suffered. At the damage stage, tenants should know what damages can be recovered under the Unlawful Detainer statute.
At the end of a lease term, New Jersey tenants have rights beyond their right to reasonable changes in a proposed lease. Tenants have a right to two separate notices before a landlord can file an eviction action. A landlord's failure to strictly observe both the content and timing of the notice requirements will result in the dismissal of the eviction action. Before evicting a tenant for refusing lease changes, the content and timing requirements must be strictly observed.
Many New Jersey residential tenants enter into written leases with their landlords. At the end of a lease, a tenant may wish to stay in the apartment. At this point, a landlord can present a new lease that typically includes different terms. These different terms can be an increase in rent, a change of the due date, change of the grace period or a change in the living terms (for example, a pet policy). If the tenant refuses the new lease changes, a landlord may seek an eviction under Section "i" of the N.J Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1i.
In New Jersey, tenants have a right to possession of their apartments. Generally, this means that once a tenant has a right to occupy an apartment he may do so to the exclusion of others. One fairly common violation of this right is a landlord's interference with a tenant's possession by way of an illegal lockout. Illegal lockouts happen for many reasons. They are used in an effort to force tenants to pay more in rent, to change the terms of a lease or otherwise affect a tenant's behavior. Fortunately for tenants, Illegal lockouts are forms of self-help, prohibited by N.J.S.A. 2A:39-1 et seq.
New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act (the "CFA")is among the most powerful consumer protection statutes in the country. The CFA provides for treble damages and attorney's fees in cases where the Defendant is found liable for an unlawful practice. One method of establishing liability for an unlawful practice is by showing a violation of a regulation promulgated under the CFA. Car repair and body shops are subject to CFA regulation. Consumers who believe they have been harmed or "ripped off" by a mechanic or body shop should be aware of these important regulations.
N.J.A.C. §13:45A-26C.2 (the "Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations") sets forth an extensive list of what practices are deemed deceptive and therefore unlawful under the CFA. Many of the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations control conduct related to what a consumer is entitled to know and authorize before a mechanic or body shop undertakes a repair. Failing to inform the customer as required by the regulations can expose a mechanic or body shop to significant liability.