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Landlord/Tenant Laws And Legal Research Recently Published By New Jersey Courts

New Jersey Courts Dec. 16, 2022

Key facts:

  • Residential tenants in New Jersey have certain rights. They cannot be evicted by anyone other than a special civil part officer.

  • The landlord must first file a landlord tenant lawsuit in the special civil part of the Superior Court and get a judgment for possession from the court before an officer can be directed to evict any residential tenant.

  • If the landlord does not have a judgment for possession, and attempts to have the tenant evicted, this is an illegal lockout. If the eviction is not carried out by a special civil part officer, this is also an illegal lockout.

  • Tenants have the right to attend court on the scheduled trial date to defend themselves against a possible eviction. Those cases are heard in the county courthouse where the rental property is located.

  • Covid-19 Update: Landlord Tenant trials and evictions have resumed as of September 1, 2021. Do not ignore an eviction notice:

    • Case management conferences are required court events that are being held by phone or video conference.

    • Settlement conferences also are being held by phone or video conference.

    Landlord Tenant Laws:

    There are two New Jersey statutes that apply to eviction cases. The laws differ on when and why a renter can be evicted.

    See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53 for commercial tenants (not homes) and for residential properties with no more than two rental units (such as a two-family home, or a three-family home if the landlord also lives in one of the units).

    N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 et. seq. applies to all other residential tenants, except for hotels, motels, and seasonal renters.

    Laws Protecting Tenants

    Some reasons a landlord might file a complaint in landlord tenant court:

    • The tenant failed to pay rent.

    • The tenant is often late in paying rent.

    • The tenant has repeatedly acted in a disorderly manner.

    • The tenant has caused destruction or damage to the property willfully or through gross negligence.

    • The tenant has violated the terms of the lease or other document.

    • The landlord is required to board up or demolish the property for health and safety reasons.

    In most cases, a landlord must give a tenant a written notice to cease, or stop, their disorderly conduct or other violation. The landlord can only move forward with an eviction if the tenant continues the conduct after receiving the notice to stop. See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 for more information.

    Also, complaints for reasons other than non-payment of rent generally require notice ending the tenancy. These notices must be attached to the complaint at the time of filing. Under federal law, public housing residences require the landlord to send a copy of the complaint and any eviction notice to the Public Housing Authority (“PHA”) on the same day or before the complaint is filed in court.

    Common Defenses in Eviction Cases

    There are many ways that tenants can defend themselves in eviction cases. Both tenants and landlords should research these issues in order to prepare for court. Legal Services of New Jersey has a helpful website to get you started.


    A rental property must be “habitable,” meaning that people can live in it safely and comfortably. In New Jersey this is also called the Marini Doctrine. Common problems that affect habitability:

    1. Lack of heat

    2. Mold, bedbugs, or rodents

    3. No running water, no hot water, or a toilet that doesn’t work

    4. Lead paint, broken windows, unfinished floors

    5. Broken appliances such as a stove or a refrigerator

    6. Unsafe common areas such as a lobby, stairs, or elevator

    7. Anything else that makes it hard for a tenant to live there normally

    A tenant might withhold rent because of a habitability issue. But habitability cannot be used to avoid eviction for a pattern of late rent payments, noise or pet violations, or any other reason the landlord might give for an eviction.

    To make a habitability defense, a tenant must:

    1. Be able to pay the full amount of rent due on the scheduled court date. They might be asked to give the rent money to the court to hold until the case is over.

    2. Be able to show the court, with photos or other evidence, that some part of the living space is uninhabitable.

    3. Be able to show the court that they told the landlord about the problem and gave the landlord a chance to fix it.

    4. Be able to show the court that they are not the cause of the issue. If the tenant broke the window, for example, that cannot be the reason for not paying rent.

    Unregistered Rental Property

    The property might not be registered as a rental property. If the landlord lives on the property and there are three units or fewer, the property must be registered with the Community Development Authority.

    If the landlord does not live on the property OR the property includes more than three units, the property must be registered with the Bureau of Housing Inspection.

    The case might be dismissed if the landlord cannot prove that the property is registered. The judge could also decide to delay the case to give the landlord time to register the property.

    Illegal Tenancy

    A tenant could argue that the tenancy is illegal. Reasons could include:

    1. The property is condemned.

    2. There are zoning violations. For example, the property has been divided into more units than it was approved to have.

    3. The property violates other laws. For example, it might be in a basement with only one escape route.


    The judge could decide to give the tenant an “abatement”, meaning the tenant does not owe the full amount of the rent because of a problem with the property. For example, the tenant is paying for a 2-bedroom apartment but one of the bedrooms has no windows and is not a real room.

    Section 8 Subsidized Housing

    A landlord cannot evict a tenant without first telling any public agencies that subsidize the tenant’s rent. The landlord must attach proof of this notice when the eviction complaint is filed with the court. The case could be dismissed if the landlord did not notify the agency about the case.

    Certain Business Landlords That Require Attorneys

    Landlords that are corporations, limited liability companies (LLC), or limited partnerships (LLP), are not permitted to file landlord/tenant lawsuits without an attorney. When these business landlords appear in court, they must also have an attorney representing them.

    Notices Required if Landlord is Suing for Something Other Than Non-Payment of Rent

    If the landlord has sued a tenant for a reason other than non-payment of rent, the landlord is required to send the tenant certain notices. The landlord must attach copies of the notices to the complaint before filing with the court. Each notice can have different legal requirements depending on the reason for seeking eviction. Tenants must receive these notices when they are served with the summons and complaint.

    Payment of All Rent Due by 4:30 p.m. on Trial Date (for Non-Payment of Rent Case Only)

    The case may be dismissed if the tenant pays to the court by 4:30 p.m. on the scheduled trial date the entire amount of rent due and owing. This includes the court costs (landlord’s filing fees) and any other costs lawfully permitted by the lease agreement. This is only if a landlord has sued on the basis of non-payment of rent only,

    Pay All Rent up to Three Days After an Eviction (Landlord Must accept)

    For residential non-payment of rent cases only, a landlord must accept payment as long as it includes:

    1. The total amount of rent due and owing, plus

    2. Permissible costs and charges under a valid lease agreement.

    Total amount must be paid any time up to three business days after an eviction. Payment must be by cashier’s check, money order or cash. No personal checks. A landlord must also accept payment on behalf of a tenant by a charitable organization.

    After receipt of payment, the landlord has three days to ask the court to dismiss the tenant’s case with prejudice.

    Illegal Evictions

    How to File for the Return to Your Rental Premises

    A landlord cannot evict tenants or remove their belongings from a rental home without first getting a judgment for possession and then a warrant of removal from the court. Only a special civil part officer can perform the eviction on behalf of a landlord.

    It is illegal for the landlord to force a tenant out by changing the locks, padlocking the doors or by shutting off gas, water or electricity.

    A landlord also cannot take possession of a tenant’s personal belongings or furniture to try to force them to pay rent. Tenants who have been locked out of their home illegally can file a complaint in the special civil part of Superior Court. In the complaint, the tenant can request to be allowed back into the home. They also can request monetary damages.

    Security Deposits

    Maximum security deposit is 1 ½ months’ rent.

    In New Jersey, a landlord can only charge up to 1½ months’ rent as a security deposit. The landlord requires the security deposit in order to pay for any damage done to the unit or to cover unpaid rent after the tenant leaves. The landlord must deposit the security deposit into an interest-bearing account within 30 days of receiving the money from the tenant.

    Security deposit must be kept in an interest-bearing bank account.

    The landlord must notify the tenant in writing, within 30 days of receiving the deposit, the following information:

    1. The name and address of the bank where the money has been deposited.

    2. The amount of the deposit.

    3. The type of account.

    4. The current interest rate of that account

    The landlord must send the tenant an updated statement providing the same information on an annual basis, or within 30 days if:

    • The deposit is moved to another account or bank.

    • The bank merges with another bank.

    • The rental property is sold.

    The interest must be paid or credited to the tenant each year.

    The landlord must either pay you the amount of the annual interest in cash or must credit the amount of the annual interest toward the payment of rent.

    The security deposit cannot be touched until the tenant moves out.

    The landlord cannot deduct any money from a tenant’s security deposit until after the tenant moves out of the home. If the landlord wants to use the security deposit to pay for damage or for unpaid rent, they must notify the tenant in writing within 30 days after eviction or after the tenant moves out of the home. The tenant must provide the landlord with their new address so that the landlord can contact them about their security deposit.

    If the tenant owes more money than the amount of the security deposit, or if the damage caused by the tenant was beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord can sue the tenant in court for the additional amount.

    If the tenant believes the landlord kept all or part of the security deposit without good cause, the tenant can sue the landlord for security deposits up to $5,000 in small claims court. Lawsuits for security deposits greater than $5,000 must be filed as special civil cases.


    A residential tenant will not be forced to move because the property is in foreclosure if the tenant has a valid lease and is in good standing. The purchase at the sheriff’s sale will take over the building subject to the tenants’ rights.

    If the property they are renting goes into foreclosure, tenants should receive the Notice to Residential Tenants of Rights During Foreclosure.