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Articles Tagged with “Illegal Apartment”

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New Jersey landlord-tenant relationships are controlled by applicable statutes (the Anti-Eviction Act, NJSA 2A:18-61.1 et. seq., or NJSA 2A:18-53) and the terms of the lease. Lease terms are interpreted by typical contractual principles. The most basic contractual principle requires that agreements be supported by consideration (a legal term for something of value given to support a contract). In a landlord-tenant context, the tenant’s payment of rent is consideration for the landlord providing a habitable apartment. For tenants living in illegal apartments, the analysis could be much different. By renting an illegal apartment, the landlord may have failed to provide consideration required by the contract. In these cases, the tenant may be entitled to a refund of all rent paid.
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New Jersey tenants are protected by the Anti-Eviction Act (NJSA 2A:18-61.1) and the Consumer Fraud Act (NJSA 56:8-1 et. seq.). Pursuant to Anti-Eviction Act, tenants living in illegal apartments are entitled a statutory relocation benefit of six times the monthly rent (NJSA 2A:18-61.1(g)(2) & NJSA 2A:18-61.1h). On the Consumer Fraud Act side, consumers are protected from unconscionable commercial practices which cause the consumer to suffer an “ascertainable loss.” Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act can trigger a consumer’s right to triple damages; an enhancing remedy in line with the relocation benefit. In the context of illegal apartments, can the Consumer Fraud Act and Anti-Eviction Act combine to give tenants two equally powerful remedies? The answer turns on how the damage to the tenant is characterized.
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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?
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As the prior post mentioned, illegal apartments are growing problem in Northern New Jersey cities like Newark, Hoboken, and Jersey City. For starters, the relocation statute, N.J.S.A. §2A:18-61.1h states that tenants displaced because of an illegal occupancy are entitled to a payment of six times the monthly rent from the landlord. In many cases, “displaced because of an illegal occupancy” means that a landlord maintains units in n building beyond what the zone for that area provides (for example, a three family apartment building in a two family zone). An evicted tenant is then entitled to the relocation benefit under 61.1h. A common question posed by illegal apartment tenants is: Can my landlord deduct rent I owe from my relocation benefit? The problem was addressed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the Miah v. Ahmed, 179 N.J. 511, (2004).
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Illegal apartments are a growing problem in northern New Jersey cities such as Newark, Paterson, Hoboken and Jersey City. Illegal apartments come in many forms, some nicer than others. Even a “nice” apartment, in a relatively new building, can be illegal. The illegality of the apartment can trigger a tenant’s right to relocation benefits (six times the monthly rent). Although securing a relocation benefit is a specific and nuanced process, the basics are easy to understand. Before making any relocation demand on a landlord, a smart tenant will know the basics illegal apartment law.
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