Your Rights as a Renter in New Jersey
Does your landlord actively make your apartment unlivable? Does your landlord enter your apartment without permission or notice? Are they withholding amenities, ignoring your requests for maintenance, increasing your rent, or evicting you without proper notice?
All of the above behaviors are a form of “landlord harassment.”
When Can A Landlord Evict A Tenant?
In New Jersey, the only way a landlord and evict a tenant is if a Superior Court Judge orders the eviction after the landlord has sued the tenant for eviction in Superior Court and won.
This means you are not required to move out of your rental home simply because your landlord tells you to or threatens to remove you. Even if you are late on rent, if you have yet to receive an eviction notice from a Superior Court judge, you do not have to vacate your rental.
Landlords and their employees have no right to evict tenants, shut off utilities, or withhold amenities. If you are locked out of your apartment or your landlord withholds utilities, you should call the police. The police must ensure you get back into your apartment if the locks were changed. You should also contact an attorney, and if you do encounter police officers, know those police officers have no right to evict you from your home – without a court order.
Continually, even if you owe rent to your landlord, they can not take or hold amenities, furniture, clothing, or any other belonging as collateral for your late rent payments.
But what constitutes “Just Cause” for eviction?
Just Cause for Eviction
First of all, there are a few exceptions under which tenants can be evicted other than “just cause.”
These few exceptions include tenants in buildings or houses of three or fewer apartments where the owner lives in one of the apartments. This is known as the “owner-occupied” exception. In these cases, tenants can be evicted at the end of the lease term for any reason.
The Anti-Eviction Act identifies 18 different causes for eviction. No eviction can take place unless a landlord establishes legal proof (wins an eviction suit against a tenant) on one of these 18 causes.
There are 18 legal grounds for eviction, these include:
- Not paying rent
- Disorderly conduct that disturbs other tenants
- Damage or destruction of the landlord’s property
- Violation of landlord’s rules and regulations
- Violation of lease agreement
- Violation of public housing lease agreement provision prohibiting illegal use of drugs or other illegal activities
- Not paying a rent increase
- Housing or health code violations
- The landlord wants to permanently retire the building from residential use
- Not accepting changes in the lease
- Paying rent late month after month (habitual lateness)
- Conversion to condominium or cooperative
- The owner wants to live in the apartment or house
- Tenant loses a job that includes rental unit
- Conviction of a drug offense
- Conviction of assaulting, attacking, or threatening the landlord
- Engaging or being involved in drug activity, theft, or assaults or threats against a landlord
- Conviction of theft offense
- Human Trafficking
How To Protect Yourself From And Report Landlord Harassment.
- Take Notes – Write down each incident of harassment in detail by time and date, and whenever possible accompany these notes with pictures, video, or audio evidence. More evidence will pave the way for you to pursue necessary legal action.
- Hire an attorney – Sometimes the hardest part is “legally defining” your particular case of landlord harassment before going to court. An attorney will help you argue that your landlord engaged in illegal behaviors that caused “notable damage,” and in turn, the court may award you compensation based on your “damages.”
- Stay Informed – It’s important to know what your and your landlord’s rights and responsibilities are in the tenant-landlord agreement you both agreed to in writing. If you know your rights and can identify an instance of your landlord violating your rights, you should take action immediately.
- Ask other Tenants – If you are facing serious violations of your rental rights by your landlord then it is likely other tenants are facing the same violations. Talk to your neighbors and pool your notes.
Landlords that are found to have violated a tenant's eviction rights, can face civil penalties such as fines. Further penalties include landlords losing the ability to list the residence as a planned real estate development for a five-year period following the date on which the property becomes vacant.
Essentially the biggest threat landlords face is the possibility that the residence in question won’t make them money for a five-year period.
For more information on the rights and responsibilities of residential tenants and landlords in New Jersey read the Department of Community Affairs' “Truth In Renting.”
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