New Jersey landlord-tenant actions (a/k/a “summary dispossession actions”) are designed to be quick, efficient methods of disposing of landlord-tenant disputes. The efficiency of a landlord-tenant case lies in the prohibition of responsive pleadings and the “No Discovery” rule. NJ Court Rule 6:4-3 provides that interrogatories and other discovery methods are applicable in all actions except “summary landlord and tenant actions for recovery of the premises.” The “No Discovery” rule poses a problem for landlords alleging wrongful conduct (for example, damage to the apartment or violation of lease rules) by the tenant. How does a landlord prove wrongful conduct? How does a tenant defend against an allegation of wrongful conduct?
The answers to these important questions may lie in NJ Court Rule 6:3-4(d), “Notices.” This rule requires that “complaints in all tenancy actions shall have attached thereto copies of all notices upon which the plaintiff intends to rely.” If a landlord seeks to evict a tenant for a reason which requires a notice, that notice must be attached to the complaint. The purpose of this rule is clear: Tenants must be made aware of the grounds for which the landlord seeks to evict. Attaching the served notices alerts the tenant to the facts the landlord will bring to the court. Since the “No Discovery” Rule prohibits the tenant from investigating the factual bases for the landlord’s allegations, the only opportunity to be appraised of the facts is the notice. Having received the notice, the tenant’s opportunity to challenge the facts alleged will be on the court date. This reality coupled with the long-standing principle against trial by surprise yields one conclusion: Notices served on tenants must specify all facts the landlord will introduce at trial.
All notices served on the tenant must specifically allege the facts that give rise to the right to serve the notice. For example, it is not enough to say: “Tenant violated the lease rule against pets.” Rather, the landlord must specify the “who, what, when and where” of the no-pet violation. Failing to do so cripples the factual basis for the notice and ultimately the landlord-tenant case. A landlord cannot introduce facts at trial which are not included in the notice. The use of fact not included in the notices would create a trial by surprise.
In more complex landlord-tenant cases, a tenant may seek a transfer of the matter to the Law Division pursuant to NJ Court Rule 4:6-1(g). If the matter were transferred, the tenant would have the benefit of the discovery methods in Part IV of the Court Rules. The transfer of a landlord-tenant action increases the time and cost of litigation. For this reason, most landlord-tenant actions remain in the Special Civil Part and subject to Rule 6:3-4(d). In these cases, landlords should take special care when drafting notices to be served on tenants.
Since the facts of each circumstance vary, a tenant should consult an attorney with his/her specific circumstances. Offit Kurman practices landlord tenant law throughout New York and New Jersey assisting landlords and tenants in avoiding unnecessary and costly delays. The firm’s geographic practice area includes: New York City (Manhattan, New York County, Brooklyn, Kings County, Queens, Queens County, Bronx County, Staten Island, Richmond County) and New Jersey (Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Hudson County, Newark, Essex County, Woodbridge, Middlesex County). The Firm invites you to visit the “Promises” page for our new way of doing business. Contact us today for a guaranteed free initial consultation.