Northern New Jersey has had a booming real estate market for years now with homeowners using rental income to help pay the mortgage or to earn additional income for themselves. When a landlord is familiar with New Jersey’s tenancy laws, being a landlord is a lucrative endeavor. Many landlords throughout this state, however, are surprised to learn evicting a tenant in New Jersey is not a simple matter. Tenancy law in New Jersey is very specific and requires strict adherence to the statute, N.J.S.A. 2A: 18-53 – 84. The most important thing to remember when it comes to tenant eviction is that New Jersey is not a “self-help” state, meaning that landlords must go through the courts before they change any locks to the apartment. If a landlord fails to follow the letter of the law, evicting an unwanted tenant can become quite costly and time consuming.
Lets take Maria, for example, who purchased a two family home as an investment property. Maria depends on the rent she receives for each apartment to cover the building expenses like water, sewer, property taxes and the mortgage. Maria purchased the home with both tenants living at the property on month-to-month tenancies. Eventually, Maria decides that she wants to move into one of the apartments at this property and would like to do so immediately. On April 15th Maria speaks to one of her tenants and explains that she wants to take the apartment back to live in it and has heard from her friends that she is allowed to do this under New Jersey law. The tenant agrees, they make a deal that wherein the tenant will vacate the apartment by May 31st and Maria agrees to let the tenant use her security deposit to pay rent for the month of May.
On May 25th Maria reaches out to her tenant to confirm that the tenant will be leaving the apartment keys at the when they move. The tenant says that she could not find another apartment within her budget that was satisfactory and has decided that she will not be moving out by May 31st after all. Maria knows that she cannot just wait for her tenant to leave for work and change the locks to the apartment, so she files a complaint in Landlord/Tenant Court and awaits the trial date. At the trial, the judge asks Maria if she provided written Notice to Quit to her tenant, who is also present at the hearing. Maria explains that she sat down with her tenant over a month ago and came to an agreement. The judge dismisses her complaint and suggests that Maria seek legal counsel before trying to evict her tenant again.
Maria’s tenant knew how the New Jersey Eviction Law works and recognized that Maria was unfamiliar with the legal requirements when they sat down to talk on April 15th. Not only has Maria lost the security deposit that she could have used to cover any damage to the apartment, she will not be able to move into her apartment for at least another 2 full months due to the legal requirements of the state law.
In New Jersey, a landlord may evict a tenant if the landlord wants to personally occupy the apartment. That is one of the grounds for eviction under the above referenced statute. The landlord must still provide a Notice to Quit, a letter to the tenant(s) advising them that their tenancy will end a specific date that must be at least 2 full months from the date of the notice, based on the date the tenant’s month-to-month tenancy. The Notice to Quit must also specifically identify the grounds for eviction (in this case, that the landlord wants to occupy the apartment) and must correctly identify the apartment as it was first identified to the tenant when he or she began the tenancy. Finally, the Notice to quit must be served in the same manner as any other legal document would (usually regular and certified mail, return receipt requested). Even if the tenant says that he will not move out from the moment he or she receives the notice, a landlord must still wait for the move-out date that was set forth in the letter before filing a complaint in court.
Evictions can be tricky and while the above is one example of how an eviction might play out and a general description of what is required in order to evict a tenant, much of the process is fact specific. Remember, there are tenants that will vacate the apartment as requested, but it is always best to make sure that you’ve followed the letter of the law when notifying a tenant that they are being evicted.
If you are having trouble evicting your tenant and need legal assistance, the Law Offices of Clarissa R. Cartagena, LLC is here to help.