Articles Tagged with Rent

On November 5, 2019, voters in Jersey City, NJ approved expansive regulations on “short term rentals” commonly listed on Airbnb, VRBO and similar sites. These regulations (codified in Chapter 255 of the Jersey City Municipal Code) permit short rentals only in limited circumstances. This post is one of series which will discuss the effects of Ordinance 19-077 on multi-family properties in Jersey City. The discussion begins with: Who can list on Airbnb after 19-077?

Chapter 255 of the Jersey City Municipal Code regulates short-term rentals after January 1, 2020. To understand the ordinance, it is first necessary to know the definition of a short-term rental. Short-term rentals are those residences which meet three conditions. First, the property must be a residential property offered for occupancy by someone other than property’s owner for less than 28 consecutive days. Second, the property must be regularly used and kept open for the lodging of  transient guests. Lastly, the property must be advertised or “held out to the public” as a place regularly rented to transient occupants. Put simply, a short-term rental is one advertised for short stays by non-owners.

After January 1, 2020, short-term rentals not specifically permitted by Chapter 255 are prohibited. Permitted short-term rentals are capped at 60 nights, unless specific owner-occupancy criteria are met.  There are only 5 categories of permissible “cap free” short-term rentals. These categories, all predicated upon owner-occupancy are:

Local rent control laws are commonplace in New Jersey’s largest cities. Newark and Jersey City (New Jersey’s most populous cities) both maintain comprehensive rent control laws. The basics of these laws are well known. Rent control ordinances control the rent a landlord can charge and restrict the size of future rent increases. But, basic rent and rent increases are not the only financial obligations of tenancy. Many leases define late fees, attorney’s fees and other costs as “additional rent” to be collected from the tenant in an eviction action. Can these fees be collected from tenants in rent-controlled cities? Under Opex Realty Mgmt., LLC v. Taylor, (Law.Div.2019) the answer is: “No.” After Opex Realty (approved for publication on August 13, 2019), landlord and property managers of rent controlled properties should exercise care in drafting leases and initiating nonpayment evictions.

Opex Realty addressed a common-place but unresolved question. Does a rent control ordinance’s definition of “rent” necessarily preclude the collection of “additional rent” defined costs in a lease, when the collection of those costs exceeds the maximum rent under rent control? Prior to Opex Realty, tenants generally relied on Ivy Hill Park Apts. v. Sidisin, 258 N.J.Super. 19 (App.Div.1992). In Sidisin, the Appellate Division held that a landlord could not evict a tenant for “additional rent” (defined in a lease) when the same costs were not defined as “rent” under a rent control. The Opex decision arrives at the same conclusion of Sidisin, but with a different rationale.

Judge Petrillo’s Opex holding is that additional rent cannot be collected in a nonpayment eviction because the combination of additional rent and base rent exceeds the maximum allowable rent under rent control. Judge Petrillo held: “The court will not allow the landlord to circumvent rent control…and raise the rent beyond the lawful limits by labeling a late fee or legal fee as ‘additional rent…’” Emphasis added. The Opex decision is not that additional rent cannot be collected from rent controlled tenants. Rather, the decision is that additional rent cannot be collected when so doing exceeds the maximum legal rent. This is why, in dicta, Judge Petrillo added: “Were these tenants not already bearing the maximum rent allowed by law, the outcome might have been different.” A future post will address the practical implications of Opex and whether collecting “additional rent” is ever possible under rent control.

A NJ commercial landlord-tenant relationship can be challenging to manage. A commercial landlord must balance the benefit of having a rent paying tenant in a space that can be difficult to rent with the realities of the tenant’s behavior. In 2014, the Firm confronted this scenario: Pursue an eviction matter far enough to convince a commercial tenant to change his behavior while preserving the landlord-tenant relationship and rent payments to the Landlord.
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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.

Many New Jersey landlords require that tenants pay extra money for certain “extra” rights. For example, a landlord may require a pet fee in exchange for the right to keep a pet on the property. Some landlords charge tenants “finder’s fees” for the right to rent an apartment (even though no real estate brokers are involved). Tenants often bristle at paying these extra fees, especially when a lease is renewed. This raises the question: Can a tenant be evicted for failure to pay additional fees?
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Late payment of rent is one of the more common landlord complaints. Late-paying tenants interfere with their landlord’s bottom line and create an atmosphere of disrespect toward the landlord’s investment. The NJ Anti-Eviction Act allows a Landlord to evict a tenant for “habitual late payment of rent” when the tenant “after written notice to cease, has habitually and without legal justification failed to pay rent which is due and owing.” N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(j). Although the law seems clear, it’s easy to say a tenant pays rent habitually late; evicting for late payments is more difficult proposition.
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All New Jersey landlord-tenant cases have a mediation requirement. This means that the Landlord and the Tenant must, at least, try to resolve their dispute before the case goes before a judge. Mediation is a great opportunity to reach an agreement that works for both Parties and avoids the harshness of a judge calling a winner and a loser. In general, there are three types of landlord-tenant settlements.
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Landlords Beware: Residential Form Leases Do Not Cure All Ills

The word “lease” is a fancy term for a simple agreement: The tenant agrees to pay rent and the landlord agrees to provide a habitable living space. Some leases are lengthy and contain conflicting terms which affect both the landlord’s and the tenant’s rights. In a landlord-tenant case, the court will look at the content of a lease very closely. This is where Google causes more problems than it solves. Free form leases from the internet can be dangerous.

Form residential leases are all over the internet for free. Like most things, if it’s free its too good to be true. For landlords, a free form lease can cost money further down the line. This is especially true if the case goes to landlord-tenant court.

Form leases, by nature, are generic; generic leases can work in as many states as possible. Form leases do not apply relevant New Jersey law and some provisions that protect landlord may be void and inapplicable. Even form leases claiming to be customized for New Jersey may not meet for formal requirements set forth in the law.
The common problems with form leases often relate to two issues: 1) attorney’s fees in connection to litigation and 2) late fees. For example, most form leases have the following attorney’s fee clause:
ATTORNEY’S FEES: In the event that any action is filed in relation to this Lease, the unsuccessful party in the action will pay to the successful party, in addition to all the sums that either party may be called on the pay a reasonable sum for the successful party’s attorney’s fees.
The paragraph seems to say that if landlord sues a tenant, or vice versa, the losing party would pay the attorney’s fees of the winning party. Remember, court hearings for evictions, are considered “legal actions.” Contrary to the plain meaning of the attorney’s fee clause, absent very specific language, attorney’s fee clauses are unenforceable.
Many form leases have following late fee clause:
LATE CHARGE: A late fee of $________ shall be added and due for any payment of rent made after the _______ day of the month.
Even if the clause meets the formal requirements of New Jersey law, a late fee clause may be deemed unenforceable by a court if the late fee is found to be “unreasonable.” Be sure to take care when filling the blanks of the late charge clause on a form lease.
Landlords should take care by having their leases reviewed by an attorney. 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 Jersey (Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Hudson County, Newark, Essex County, Woodbridge, Middlesex County, Paterson, Passaic County). The Firm invites you to visit the “Promises” page for our new way of doing business Continue Reading ›

New Jersey’s Security Deposit Law, N.J.S.A. 46:8-21.1, requires strict compliance by Landlords. The law’s most rigid requirement is the timing of the return of the deposit. As soon as a tenancy ends, a landlord should be prepared to follow the precise letter of the law. Even an honest mistake can lead to an award of double the security deposit and attorney’s fee’s against the landlord.
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New Jersey’s Security Deposit Law (NJSA 46:8-19) is one of the more tenant-friendly security deposit laws in the US. The Law requires strict compliance (almost to the letter) with each of its parts. Failing to follow the law, in detail, can expose a Landlord to a penalty of double the security deposit and attorney’s fees. Landlords and Tenants should be aware of the most common area of noncompliance: Unauthorized deductions.
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