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Articles Tagged with “New Jersey Anti-Eviction Act”

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The Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(c) allows a New Jersey landlord to evict a tenant for “destruction, damage or injury to the [rental] premises” (Section 61.1(c)). Section 61.1(c) requires that a landlord prove two elements. The first can be described as the “mental state” of the tenant. The second is resultant harm from that mental state. The full text of Section 61.1(c) shows this. An eviction under Section 61.1(c) is permissible when: “The [tenant] has willfully or by reason of gross negligence caused or allowed destruction, damage or injury to the premises.” The threshold inquiry is how the damage occurred, whether it occurred willfully or by gross negligence. Proving this element at trial is a difficult task.
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A question often posed by New Jersey landlord is: “When should I file a nonpayment of rent case? After how many months?” Answering this question requires balancing the propriety of litigation relative to the amounts involved. Unscrupulous landlords may be tempted to “sit” on the rent for many months, allowing the tenant to accrue a balance that the tenant has no realistic chance of paying. In a case like this, the landlord relies on the tenant’s poor money management skills and hopes that the tenant cannot pay the all of the rent due on the court date. But, landlord-tenant law is too sophisticated for this game; the affirmative defense of “laches” may defeat the landlord’s claim.
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A New Jersey residential eviction action can only begin because the Landlord has “good cause” under the Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1. Often, when a landlord pursues a tenant’s eviction there are many problems with the tenancy. For example, the tenant may fail to pay late fees and also pay habitually late. A tenant may disturb the peace and quiet of the other tenants and also refuse to sign a written lease. When the case finally comes to court, it is natural to try to resolve all outstanding issues. A recent appellate division opinion cautions: Be careful what you settle for, it may not be enforceable.
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The NJ Anti-Eviction Act provides the least amount of protection for a tenant causing damage to the landlord’s property. For most grounds for eviction (habitual late payment, violation of lease rules, increase in rent, etc.) the Anti-Eviction Act requires either a Notice to Cease and/or a one month Notice to Quit prior to filing the Complaint. In a damage case, the tenant is entitled to only three days of notice before the landlord files the Complaint. The short time frame is counterbalanced by the landlord’s burden. In an eviction for damage case, the landlord must prove both the cause and effect. Without both, the landlord’s case will fail.
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Oral residential tenancies in New Jersey are an invitation to chaos. A prior post explained the basic terms of an oral tenancy. Those terms are the amount of the rent and the size of the space. Equally important is the identity of the tenant and the landlord’s right to know who occupies its property. Often, a landlord will purchase a multi-family building and find unauthorized occupants in apartments presumably rented to a named tenant. Without a written lease defining the tenants, the question is: Who is the tenant in the apartment and what rights (if any) do they have?
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New Jersey residential tenancies exist in two forms. Those with a written lease and those without. Written leases are more desirable for the simple (and obvious reason) that the terms of the tenancy are defined. Oral tenancies generally lack defined terms (unless implied from conduct). This vagueness is problematic. Whether a landlord purchases a building with an existing oral tenancy or creates one, the problems remain the same. The central question is: How does one define the terms of an oral tenancy?
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Municipal housing code citations can be a nightmare for NJ landlords. A prior post explained how some tenants intentionally or neglectfully damage their apartment and sic the city on the landlord. These housing code citations can be used by the tenant to form the basis of habitability or “Marini” withholding. Even worse, housing code citations carry onerous municipal fines. In light of the dual damage of landlord-tenant habitability withholding and municipal fines, NJ landlords should be aware of the technical requirements of the International Property Maintenance Code (“IMPC”). Housing code violations should be appealed when the notice requirements are not strictly followed by the city. Most importantly, the Notice should identify which party is responsible for “repair” vs. “maintenance.”
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New Jersey landlords face a complicated regulatory jungle. In addition to the stringent requirements of the Anti-Eviction Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:81-61.1 et. seq.), Landlords must also comply with the NJ Department of Community Affairs and local housing code enforcement. In Northern New Jersey, many cities (Jersey City, West New York etc.) adopted the International Property Maintenance Code and rely on housing/building code departments to enforce it. Like most laws, the International Property Maintenance Code (the “IPMC”) was designed with the best intentions. In practice, the IPMC can be abused by tenants trying to create a reason to withhold rent. Professional landlords should have a familiarity with the IPMC to avoid being dragged into a municipal quagmire by a tenant.
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A residential landlord client received financing for his building from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. In exchange for this financing, Landlord had to maintain a certain amount of low-income units in the building. This financing agreement serves the noble purpose of diversifying buildings, neighborhoods and cities. It has the added virtue of being successful. Unfortunately, it is subject to abuse. In this case, the tenant on the lease did not live in her low income unit. Instead, she lived far out of state and sublet her unit to the highest bidder. This conduct violated her lease, the landlord’s rules and terms of the financing agreement. The Firm represented the Landlord in a case to evict the subletter.
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2014 was a busy year for the Firm on the landlord side of the ledger. Some particularly notable NJ landlord-tenant cases include (1) a successful eviction in connection with a tenant’s refusal to cooperate with the Landlord’s lease (required by the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency); (2) A chronically difficult commercial tenant’s total acquiescence to the Landlord’s demands minutes before trial; (3) A successful defense of a tenant’s illegal apartment claim against a landlord; (4) An eviction of a horrid with horrific behavior for damage to the apartment and (5) a trial judgment in favor of the landlord increasing a tenant’s rent (the tenant refused to pay rent increases for years). Each case, discussed in a separate post, is an example of the Firm’s commitment to delivering cost-effective results to Landlord’s trying to get the most out of their investment.