The eviction process in New Jersey is guided by the Anti-Eviction Act and the Summary Dispossess Act. Evictions require legal notices, appearing before the courts, and proving legal grounds for eviction.
Landlords must carefully follow the rules when evicting a tenant in New Jersey.
The eviction process in New Jersey includes serving legal notices, filing a lawsuit in landlord-tenant court, proving the case and overcoming tenant defenses, and working with the court to lockout the tenant.
Failure to abide by the legal procedures can result in the dismissal of an eviction case, and the tenant remaining at the property while not paying rent.
The steps on how to evict a tenant in New Jersey are explained below.
Step 1: Review the Lease
Leases are the foundation for tenant and landlord obligations.
Take a moment to review the lease before pursuing eviction. As your reading over the lease, pay attention to the following provisions:
- Term – Length of time the tenant was authorized to remain at the property.
- Rent – The amount of rent that the tenant is obligated to pay and late charges.
- Use of Premises – Restrictions on occupancy or use of the premises, maintenance and condition responsibilities, animals, signs, landlord access, alterations, and interference with other tenants.
- Attorney Fees – Provisions regarding the landlord and/or tenant being responsible for legal costs in the event of an eviction lawsuit.
- Conditions Precedent To Eviction – Actions landlords must take before filing for eviction.
Don’t limit your review of the lease to the tenant’s obligations.
Have you as the landlord lived up to your end of the bargain? Standing before a judge with “clean hands” yields better results.
Step 2: Legal Reasons To Evict
The next step after reviewing the lease terms is decide whether you have legal reason to evict in New Jersey.
Consulting an attorney is helpful to decide if eviction is warranted. This is a legal conclusion based on applying the facts to New Jersey statutes and case law.
The legal reasons to evict a tenant in New Jersey are set forth two statues:
Anti-Eviction Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1): Applies to residential properties where: (1) the landlord doesn’t live there, or (2) the landlord lives there but there are more than two other rental units (i.e. apartment buildings, condos, and single-family houses).
Summary Dispossess Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53): Applies to rental properties not covered by the Anti-Eviction Act (i.e. commercial leases, or landlord lives in the same single-family or duplex).
The Anti-Eviction Act
New Jersey’s Anti-Eviction Act protects tenants.
Landlords cannot evict tenants without good cause. Tenants can live in the premises indefinitely without a reason to evict them in New Jersey.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 sets forth categories of eviction:
- Failure to pay rent
- Disorderly conduct destroying the peace and quiet of other occupants or tenants
- Damage or destruction to the premises
- Violation of the landlord’s rules and regulations
- Violation of the lease terms where a right of entry is reserved
- Violation of a public housing lease relating to illegal activity
- Failure to pay a rent increase
- Landlord addressing housing and health code violations
- Removal of the premises from the rental market
- Refusal to accept reasonable changes in the lease at the end of the term
- Habitual late rent payments without legal justification
- Conversion to condominium, cooperative, park sites, or fee simple ownership
- Owner seeks to personally occupy a unit
- Owner selling to a buyer who will only close once the property is vacant
- Tenancy was conditioned upon tenant’s employment, such as superintendent or janitor
- Conviction of a drug offense at the property
- Conviction of assaulting, attacking, or threatening the landlord, his family, or employees
- Drug activity, theft, assaults, or threats against the landlord
- Human trafficking violations
The Summary Disposses Act
The Summary Dispossess Act applies to all property not covered by the Anti-Eviction Act. This includes evicting businesses from commercial property.
The Summary Dispossess Act’s reasons for eviction are stated in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53:
- Tenant “holds over” after the lease expired and landlord personally served a written notice to vacate
- Failure to pay the rent required under the lease
- Disorderly conduct that “destroys the peace and quiet” of the landlord, other tenants, or neighborhood
- Willfully destroy, damage, or injure the premises
- Constantly violate the landlord’s written rules and regulations
- Violation of agreements contained in the lease where a right of re-entry is reserved
This “how to evict a tenant in New Jersey” guide focuses on the Anti-Eviction Act as the majority of evictions proceed under that statute.
Step 3: Notice to the Tenant
Landlords in New Jersey may need to give multiple legal notices prior to filing for eviction.
Tenants are entitled to a “Notice to Quit” and/or a “Notice to Cease” at specific timeframes before an eviction case can be filed (except for not paying rent).
Compliance with legal notice requirements is essential.
Failure to strictly comply with the law can result in dismissal of an eviction case.
The Appellate Division wrote:
All notices to quit must strictly comply with the statutory provisions of the Anti-Eviction Act. Even substantial compliance, without prejudice to defendants and without offense to public policy, does not render the notice to quit effective.Aspep Corp. v. Giuca, 634 A.2d 582 (N.J. Super. 1993)
Two types of notices frequently arise in the context of evictions – a notice to cease and a notice to quit.
Notice to Cease
A notice to cease informs a tenant to stop conduct not permitted under the lease or the Anti-Eviction Act. It is a warning notice that gives the tenant an opportunity to “cure” the breach.
The notice should include a “explicit or detailed statement” of the wrongful conduct. Carteret Properties v. Variety Donuts, Inc., 49 N.J. 116 (N.J. 1967).
Notices to cease are necessary for evictions due to disorderly conduct, breaking rules and regulations, breaking the lease, or habitual late rent. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1.
New Jersey has no timeframe landlords must wait after serving a notice to cease before moving to the next phase of eviction. Best practice is to allow a reasonable amount of time to stop the wrongful conduct.
Notices to cease do not need formal legal service and the law “requires no more than the document be sent or delivered in a manner designed to achieve notice.” Ivy Hill Park v. Abutidze, 852 A. 2d 217 (N.J. Super. 2004).
Serving notices to cease by both hand delivery, certified, and regular mail is a good practice. Notices become evidence at trial and landlords must prove how they were served.
Collecting Rent After Notice to Cease.
Landlords should proceed with caution when collecting rent after serving a Notice to Cease. Landlords should consider not accepting rent altogether, or at minimum alert the tenant every time rent is collected that the breach has not been cured. This protects that evicting for the reason stated Notice to Cease has been “waived” by accepting rent.
Notice to Quit
New Jersey’s Anti-Eviction Act explains the requirements of a Notice to Quit.
Notices to Quit shall “specify in detail the cause of the termination.” N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2. Provide enough detail so a tenant can fairly prepare for trial.
Notices to Quit must be served in writing in one of the following ways:
- Personally upon the tenant or lessee or such person in possession;
- Leaving a copy at his residence with a family member above 14 years old; or
- By certified mail, and if the certified letter is not claimed, by regular mail.
Notice Not Required For Non-Payment
Landlords do not have to give any notice when evicting for failure to pay rent.
Landlords may go directly to court and file an eviction lawsuit in non-payment cases. N.J.S.A. 61.2 .
The Appellate Division explained:
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2 expressly exempts evictions for nonpayment of rent under subsection 61.1(a) from the notice requirements imposed with respect to other grounds for eviction.Scugoza v. Stockton, 399 A.2d 299 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1979)
Notice Periods Under the Anti-Eviction Act
The Anti-Eviction Act states how long landlords must wait to go to court after serving a Notice to Quit. The timeframes depend on the reason for eviction:
- 3-Days Notices to Quit: disorderly conduct, damages and destruction to the property
- One Month’s Notice: violation of landlords rules and regulation, substantial violation of the ease terms, habitual failure to pay rent, refusal to accept reasonable lease changes at the conclusion of the lease
- Two Month’s Notice: Conversion to condominium, cooperative, park sites, or fee simple ownership, landlord seeking to personally occupy a unit or selling to a buyer with a contract contingent upon the unit being vacant
- Three Month’s Notice: Landlord compliance with state housing authorities on the following: board up or demolish the premises, resolve substantial violations of safety that are unfeasible to correct without removing the tenant, correcting an illegal occupancy that is unfeasible to correct without removing the tenant, and government agency seeks to permanently require the premises from the rental market
- 18 Month’s Notice: Permanent retirement of the rental premises
- Three Years’ Notice: The landlord or owner of the building or mobile home park is converting from the rental market to a condominium, cooperative or fee simple ownership of two or more dwelling units or park sites.
- Public Housing: For an action alleging substantial breach of contract in public housing, the notice period shall be in accordance with federal regulations to public housing leases.
“Self-Help” Not Allowed
Landlords in New Jersey cannot engage in self-help to force a tenant to leave the premises.
Locking out the tenant, shutting off utilities, scaring the tenant, or other behavior to remove the tenant is illegal. Forcing a tenant out must be done by a court officer. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-57.
Landlords can be charged with a disorderly persons offense for removing a tenant with any of the following actions after being warned by law enforcement (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-11.1):
- Use of violence of threats of violence;
- Scare tenants into leaving;
- Put tenant’s property outside;
- Force the tenant out after being left in peacefully;
- Lock the door or change the locks;
- Shut-off electricity, gas, water, or other utilities;
- Engage in behavior designed to get the tenant out.
Step 4: Filing the Evicton Complaint
Eviction complains are filed at the county Landlord/Tenant Court.
Landlord/Tenant Court cases are called summary dispossess proceedings designed for speedy evictions.
Summary dispossess proceedings only allow a tenant to “appear and state a defense”. Written answers, counterclaims, discovery, and jury trials are not permitted.
Three documents are submitted when filing for eviction:
- Verified Complaint
- Summons and Return of Service
- Notices that are intended to be relied upon at trial
The court provides verified complaint and summons and return of service templates for attorneys and pro se landlords. N.J. Court Rule 6:2-1. Documents can be mailed or given in person to the court. A list of Special Civil Part Offices, addresses, and phone numbers is here.
The eviction complaint and summons state when to appear in court, and are served on the tenant by a court officer.
Transfer to Superior Court For Additional Remedies.
Landlord/Tenant court is limited to removing tenants. Cases must be transferred to the Law Division for financial court awards. Cases must transfer to the small Small Claims Section or Law Division for additional remedies A landlord or tenant to ask Landlord/Tenant judge for transfer before the eviction trial. Transfers are allowed when there are legal issues of “sufficient importance” based on complexity, need for discovery such as document requests and depositions, impact on the parties, and requested relief beyond tenant removal. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-60.
Step 5: The Court Date
The court schedules a return date for the landlord and tenant to appear at court after documents are served on the tenant.
Tenants have at least 10 days from service of the documents to appearing at court. N.J. Court Rule 6:2-1.
Default Judgments for Not Appearing in Court
A default judgment in the landlord’s favor is issued if the tenant does appear for the scheduled hearing. The landlord then must file an affidavit or certification stating the facts to support the eviction, and then court issues an order for the eviction to go forward.
The case is dismissed if the landlord fails to appear for the scheduled hearing. See Instruction 1.
Calendar Call Instructions
The judge will provide instructions to the landlord and tenant in writing and spoken out loud to the court before the Calendar Call (when the court checks that the landlord or tenant appeard at the hearing).
These instructions cover some of the following topics:
- Default judgment and dismissals
- Waiting for a judge if the case is not settled and what occurs if the case cannot be heard
- Procedures for non-payment of rent cases (dismissal upon payment, deposit of rent and items that are considered rent)
- Eviction procedures (issuing and serving a warrant)
- Options if the court issues a Judgment for Possession authorizing the eviction (agreements with the landlord, paying all rent due and owning plus costs, right to apply for additional relief to stop the evictions)
- Agencies that may assist with rent, temporary shelter, legal services
Pre-Calendar Call instructions are here.
Courts encourage settlement between the landlord and tenant.
Settlement means the landlord and tenant reach a voluntary agreement about how to resolve the issues that lead to eviction. Settlements save time and produce a “win win” for the landlord, tenant, and court.
Settlements may include the tenant staying in the property after paying rent, or leaving on chosen move out date.
Mediation may be option in some cases. Mediation is when the landlord and tenant speak with a professional to discuss options for a mutually beneficial settlement.
Most eviction cases settle.
Step 6: The Eviction Hearing
The eviction hearing is the opportunity for the landlord to prove the case for eviction with evidence, and the tenant to assert defenses.
The judge issues an order based on the evidence presented during hearing. The order may be “Judgment for Possession” for eviction to proceed, or to dismiss the landlord’s complaint.
Proving the Eviction Case
Landlords must prove the eviction case by a preponderance of the evidence during the hearing. “Preponderance of the evidence” means it is more likely than not that the landlord proved the legal grounds to evict.
The landlord will present to the court evidence including witnesses, documents, and photos. The court will decide if proposed evidence is admissible (meaning it meets evidence rules).
Admissible evidence will be considered by the court in making its decision. Inadmissible will not be considered.
At the end of landlord presenting his case, the tenant may make a motion to dismiss asking the court to find the landlord did not present evidence that could prove the grounds for eviction. If the motion is granted, the case is dismissed in favor of the tenant. N.J. Court Rule 4-37(2)(b).
Proving Non-Payment Cases: Landlords must show that rent alleged is “legally due and owing”. Tenant cannot be evicted for late charges, attorneys’ fees, or costs unless the lease provides that such fees are collectable as rent. 175 Exec. House, L.L.C. v. Miles,156 A.3d 190 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2017). Presenting a signed written lease with the rental terms and receipts is good practice. Documents supporting oral testimony help persuade a judge.
Proving Other Cases: Landlords must prove that a tenant engaged in the wrongful conduct that is the basis for the eviction, such as damage to premises, disorderly conduct, violation of rules or regulations, and habitually late payments. Present available evidence relating to wrongful conduct described in the notice to cease, including photos, inspection reports, lease, letters, communications, and witnesses.
Defenses to Eviction in New Jersey
Tenants may present defenses to stop the eviction after the landlord finishes proving his case.
Defenses might include: unauthorized practice of law, not complying with the Landlord Registration Act, improper notice to cease and/or quit, insufficient complaint, payment of the rent, failure to provide habitable housing, not obtaining certificate of occupancy, waiver, retaliation for exercising legal rights, and bankruptcy.
Unauthorized Practice of Law
Landlords that are a corporation or limited liability partnership must be represented by a New Jersey attorney in eviction cases. Attorneys must both draft papers and appear at hearings on behalf of corporate landlords.
The eviction case can be dismissed if a corporate landlord fails retain an attorney.
The court rule states:
The prohibition of appearances and filing of court papers by business entities other than sole proprietors, contained in R. 1:21-1(c), shall apply to summary actions for possession of premises, except that a partner in a general partnership may file papers and appear pro se.N.J. Court Rule 6:10
The Landlord Registration Act
Landlords must register with the city when renting houses, apartments, or buildings pursuant to the Landlord Registration Act.
The Landlord Registration Act (N.J.S.A. 8-28) requires every landlord to register the name and address of:
- Registered agent and corporate officers for corporate owned property
- Person who resides in the county that is authorized to accept notices, receipts, and service on behalf of the owner if owner is not in the county
- Managing agent
- Employees or agents that provide regular maintenance
- Owner or managing agent who should be reached in times of emergencies (including phone number)
- Holder of recorded mortgages on the premises.
Landlords must provide a copy of the certificate of registration to every new tenant or occupant. N.J.S.A. 46:8-29
Tenants cannot be evicted if the landlord has not register under the Landlord Registration Act. The court can leave the case open for up to 90-days, and if the land still has no registered, the case must be dismissed. N.J.S.A. 46:8-33
Improper or Missing Notice to Quit and/or Cease
Landlords must strictly follow the rules for notice to cease and or quit. Failure to do so can result in the case being dismissed.
The Anti-Eviction Act bars eviction actions except upon with compliance with notice and procedural requirements, regardless if the landlord acted in good faith or the tenant was not harmed.
The Appellate Division held:
The Act reflects a public policy barring dispossess actions except upon strict compliance with the notice and procedural requirement of the act. We have defined “strict compliance” as “punctilious” compliance with the Act’s provisions, including the notice provisions . . . In sum, absent strict compliance . . . a court is without jurisdiction to enter a summary dispossess action.Jefferson Street Condominium Ass’n v. Paige, 788 A.2d 296 (N.J. Super. 2002)
Courts can dismiss a complaint for failure to adequately allege a legal basis for eviction.
Complaints should do the following:
- State the grounds and cause for evictions
- The stated grounds must be sufficient to evict
- Reasons for eviction in the Complaint must be the same as the notice to cease/to quit
- Specify the amount of rent legally due
Paying the Rent
Evictions for nonpayment of rent can be dismissed by if the tenant pays before, during, or shortly after the eviction.
According to a recent development in the law (N.J. Senate Bill 3124), tenants may pay rent due and owing at any time before three business days after the lockout.
- Accept any method of rent payment;
- Allow the tenant to return to the premises within 2 business days;
- Notify the court in writing within 2 business days. No late fee may be charged not set forth in the application for Warrant for Removal.
No late fee may be charged not set forth in the application for Warrant for Removal.
N.J.S.A. 2A-18-55 also states “the tenant or person in possession of the demised premises shall at any time on or before entry of final judgment, pay to the clerk of the court the rent claimed to be in default, together with the accrued costs of the proceedings, all proceedings shall be stopped.” See N.J.S.A. 2A:42-9.
Not Obtaining a Certificate of Occupany
Landlords may not be able evict tenants in New Jersey if they’ve failed to obtain a required certificate of occupancy. See McQueen v. Brown and Cook, 342 N.J. Super 120 (App. Div. 2001) (“the better course was for the court to have adjourned the matter to allow plaintiff to apply for an occupancy permit”).
Certificates of occupancy are issued by the municipality to confirm the premises comply with local housing code standard.
Property Not Habitable
Landlords must provide tenants in New Jersey to provide safe and decent housing. This obligation is called the implied warranty of habitability.
Tenants in New Jersey may repair and deduct (not pay rent necessary to main habitably housing) or engage in rent withholding (keeping rent payments until the landlord makes repairs).
The New Jersey Supreme Court held Marini v. Ireland, 56 N.J. 130 (1970):
If, therefore, a landlord fails to make the repairs and replacements of vital facilities necessary to maintain the premises in a livable condition for a period of time adequate to accomplish such repair and replacements, the tenant may cause the same to be done and deduct the cost thereof from future rents. The tenant’s recourse to such self-help must be preceded by timely and adequate notice to the landlord of the faulty condition in order to accord him the opportunity to make the necessary replacement or repair.Marini v. Ireland, 56 N.J. 130 (1970)
A tenant may be able to have an eviction complaint about non-payment of rent dismissed in New Jersey if the tenant justifiably with held rent.
Repairs that were required must go to habitability – not amenities such as painting, blinds, or a wall crack.
For rent withholding cases, tenants may be required to deposit the full amount of rent withheld. If the tenant cannot post the base rent that is due, the courts usually do not allow this defense go stand.
Waiver of Claims
Landlords may waive the right to evict by accepting rent after the service of a Notice to Quit. Once waived, landlords must serve a new Not to Quit.
In the matter of Burstein v. Liberty Bell Village, 293 A.2d. 238 (App. Div. 1972), the court found that – unless there are circumstances arise from such acceptance of rent to clearly demonstrate the lease is not being affirmed – the landlord waives his right to enforce the default.
A good practice for landlords is to not accept rent after a Notice to Quit has been served. If rent has already been accepted, it consider returning it.
Retaliation or Repraisal
Landlords cannot evict tenants in New Jersey for asserting legal rights.
As outlined in N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.10, landlords cannot serve a Notice to Quit upon a tenant as retaliation/reprisal for:
- Efforts to enforce rights under the lease or contract, or state and federal laws
- Good faith complaint to a governmental authority concerning health or safety laws or regulations for dwellings
- Being an organize or member of any lawful organization
- Refusal to comply with alterations to the terms of the tenancy if the landlord substantially changed terms as impermissible retaliation
The law assumes the landlord retaliated if the eviction occurs shortly after the tenant excersized legal rights or made a good faith complaint. Landlords can overcome this presumption by showing the eviction was commenced independent of any consideration of the protected activities. Les Gertrude Associates v. Walko 262 N.J. Super. 544 (1993).
Filing bankruptcy in federal court stays cases in state court – including eviction cases.
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 allows landlords to continue an eviction case:
- If he landlord already had a court-ordered judgment for possession prior to the tenant filing for bankruptcy.
- Due to engagement or illegal (for file within 30-days of bankruptcy.
Step 7: Locking Out the Tenant
The court issues a Judgment For Possession if the landlord won the eviction hearing. The Judgment For Possession allows the landlords to request a Warrant for Removal to lockout the tenant.
The landlord and court go through a series of steps outlined in the Fair Eviction Notice Act to enforce the court’s decision and lockout the tenant:
Landlord Applies for Warrant for Removal.
The landlord sends the Judgment For Possession to the court clerk and requests the judge issue a Warrant of Removal authorizing a court officer to remove the tenant. The landlord must request the court clerk issue a Warrant of Removal within 30 days. N.J. Court Rule 6:6(b).
The court clerk must wait three business following the Judgment For Possession before issuing a Warrant of Removal (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-57).
Warrant of Removal Issued to Court Officer.
The Warrant of Removal is an order from the judge telling the court officer to remove the tenant.
Court Officer Serves Notice and Warrant of Removal on Tenant.
The court officer personal serves a copy of the warrant on the tenant, as well as a notice that the tenant has 3 business days to vacate.
The notice also advises the tenant of the right to ask the court for a stay of execution of the warrant, and directs the tenant to housing social services.
Court Officer executes the Warrant off Removal.
Following the execution of the warrant (the “lockout”, the court officer prepares a statement of Execution of Warrant For Possession which is served upon both the landlord and tenant that states the date and time of execution of the warrant.
Three Day Grace Period To Pay Rent After Lockout.
In non-payment of rent evictions, Tenants may pay rent due and owing at any time before three business days after the lockout. N.J. Senate Bill 3124.
Step 8: Delays to Eviction
Landlord / Tenant Court retains jurisdiction for 10 calendar days after the tenant is locked out to hear applications by the tenant for relief.
Tenants may try to delay the eviction by asking the court for an Order For Orderly Removal, hardship stay, or to vacate the judgment for eviction.
Order for Orderly Removal
Tenants may request an Order For Orderly Removal to obtain an additional 7 calendar days to move ouut.
The tenant applies for the Order For Orderly removal to the court clerk and notify the landlord. Forms are normally available at the court clerk’s office.
The tenant must show a “good reason” to need more time to move out. N.J. Court Rule 6:6-6(b).
Courts normally approve only a single order of removal, and landlords normally do not contest the Order for Orderly Removal as courts typically approve them.
Tenants in New Jersey may be able to delay their eviction for up to 6-months by obtaining a hardship stay from the court.
Hardship stays can be granted at the discretion of the court if “the tenant will suffer hardship because of the unavailability of other dwelling accommodations.” Courts must hold an evidentiary hearing if the landlord does not consent. Tenant Hardship Act 10.6-10.9; N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.6 & N.J.S.A. 2A:41-10.1; CCM Co., LP v. Tselentakis (N.J. Super. 2011).
Hardship stays are only permitted in New Jersey once the tenant pays the landlord all rent due. This includes rent arrears, current rent, and court costs. Avalon Bay Cmtys., Inc. v. Jackson (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2013).
Hardship stays can be discontinued if during the stay the tenant:
- Fail to pay rent as if the tenant had continued;
- Became so disorderly as to destroy the peace and quiet of other tenants or the neighborhood;
- Willfully destroys, damages, or injures the premises.
- Tenants fail to pay the rent during the stay.
Vacating the Judgment for Possession
Tenants may delay eviction by asking the court to vacate the court order for their removal.
Courts may only vacate a prior order for one of the following reasons outlined in N.J. Court Rule 4:50-1 (made applicable to the Special Civil Part by Rule 6:6-1)
- Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, along with a meritorious defense;
- Newly discovered and relevant evidence;
- Fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;
- The judgment or order is void;
- The order has been satisfied, released or discharged;
- A prior order which it was based has been reversed or vacated
- It is no longer equitable that the judgment or order should have prospective application;
- Other justifiable reasons.