For the past several years, our office has been reporting on various topics relating to the New Jersey Eviction process. The topics have included habitability hearings, Section 8 subsidies, rent increases, and notices to tenants. Absent from these discussions has been an explanation as to how the New Jersey eviction process works. In anticipation of our March 20 Seminar in Parsippany, we started working on a discussion as to how the eviction process works.
The Eviction Complaint
New Jersey eviction actions are commenced when the Landlord files his or her complaint with the Court in the county in which the property is located. The Court generally requires that the landlord file an original and 3 copies of the Complaint, although additional copies are required in instances where there are multiple defendants. For a single Defendant, the filing fee is $25 plus an additional fee, called “mileage.” The mileage fee is determined based upon the distance of the property from the Court. Landlords must also pay an additional $2 for each additional Defendant on the Complaint. Within a few weeks of receiving the Complaint, the Court mails a copy to the Defendant, and simultaneously serves the Defendant by hand-delivering a copy of the Complaint to the tenant’s door. Trial is generally scheduled about 4 weeks from the date of filing. Some counties may take longer, depending on volume.
The Summary Proceeding
Landlord Tenant actions are Summary Proceedings. The Defendant does not file an Answer to the Complaint. Instead, the Defendant can raise any defenses on the day of trial. There are no Counterclaims or Crossclaims and there is no requirement that the parties exchange any discovery prior to trial. There are also no Jury Trials in Landlord Tenant Court.
7 Rules for Non-Payment Cases
1. In the event that the tenant pays the balance owed prior to the day of Court, the case shall be dismissed.
2. In the event that the tenant is unable to pay the balance owed by the day of Court, the landlord shall be entitled to a Judgment for Possession.
3. Most cases are mediated; however, should the matter proceed to trial, the Judge has no authority to make the landlord wait for rent or force the landlord to take the rent in installments.
4. Acceptance of a portion of the rent prior to the day of Court does not affect the status of the matter. It simply lowers the amount that the tenant would still have to pay.
5. In the event that the Landlord accepts any rent (regardless of how little) after the Judgment for Possession has been entered, the case shall be dismissed, unless the parties have a written agreement and a copy is filed with the Court.
6. Landlord Tenant Judgments are Judgments for Possession only. A landlord will only get money in Landlord Tenant Court if the tenant is willing to pay it in order to stay in the premises (or in some vacate agreements as well). The Tenancy Judge cannot compel or order the tenant to pay money. He or she can only instruct that if the rents are not paid, the tenant will be locked out. If the Landlord wants to sue the tenant to collect the unpaid rent, this must be done in a separate proceeding.
7. No “Res Judicata” – The outcome of a landlord tenant action will not necessarily affect how the Court would rule in a subsequent action (i.e.; an action for collection). Similarly, the amounts agreed to on a settlement agreement do not create a Judgment even if the tenant does not pay the amount agreed upon.
Warrants of Removal
The form for requesting a Warrant of Removal varies greatly by county. In all cases, Warrant cannot be issued for at lease 3 business days after the Judgment for Possession and in all residential cases, the lockout may not occur until 3 business days after the Warrant has been issued.
Post Judgment Relief
Following the issuance of a Warrant of Removal, the tenant may still go back to Court to ask for relief. Generally, the relief will take one of three forms as follows:
First, the tenant may apply to the Court to have Judgment set aside based upon fraud or good cause. These applications are rare, but if the application is successful, the matter will generally be dismissed and the tenant will be entitled to remain in the premises. Second, the tenant may make an application for Orderly Removal, based upon Court Rule 6:6-6(b), allowing the tenant an additional week to vacate. The Orderly Removal is the most common application, because it requires no payment on the part of the tenant; however, at the conclusion of the 1 week time period, the tenant must vacate the premises. Finally, the tenant may make an application for Hardship Stay. However, the Tenant must pay all rent due and owing and stay may not exceed 6 months. It is important to note that this application can be made up to 10 days after the lockout has occurred!
For more information on enrolling in this Seminar, please visit the Sterling Education Website at http://www.sterlingeducation.com/