Preparing For The Upcoming Landlord Tenant Court Tidal Wave

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As the weather heats up, and COVID here for the duration, take a look as to what New Jersey landlords must be achieving now and not later to prepare for the eviction process.  

New Jersey landlords have been radically affected by this pandemic and each and every one of them will be affected in the weeks, months, and most likely through the year’s end. The property rights, both in an economic sense as well as in a Constitutional sense have been impacted by Governor Murphy’s temporary ban on processing evictions to completion. While this ban is an important public safety measure during an unprecedented public health emergency, it can be argued that it created an unfair burden on landlords where they are left holding the bag. Do you see any property tax relief yet?  In the upcoming weeks the ban will probably be lifted and landlords will once again be able or try to go the distance from filing for eviction through the warrant of removal with the Court.   

When Governor Murphy removes the strictures placed upon the landlord, it is important for landlords to be prepared for evictions. Most likely (hopefully) every county court has a process in place. I figure more sessions, night court and do not exclude Saturdays during the summer months.  Do not forget, dating back from March 2020 when it was cold outside, not one, at least without by motion, was heard. Now, every landlord tenant court will have many evictions to process and will be overwhelmed. Landlords must be prepared because the Court will dismiss or reschedule the case just to delay the process even further for you. Do not let this happen. 

Here are some important steps landlords can take. 

Itemize Everything That Has Been Paid and is Owed

Prepare a detailed accounting of everything owed to you. This includes rent, late fees, attorney fees, out of pocket expenses, and any offsets created by the security deposit (in accordance with the recent unconstitutional executive order that allows security deposits to be applied to past due rent), and any monies received from the tenant.

You should also prepare any documentation that proves these expenses. Examples include: 

  • A signed lease agreement in which the tenant agrees to pay late fees;
  • Receipts for rent paid; and
  • Receipts for any damage done by the tenant

Review Your Lease Agreement

The devil is in the details. Your lease agreement usually dictates the specific terms; base rent, late fees, attorney fees, etc.  In addition, there are other terms, just as important as to how much notice you must give the tenant before initiating eviction proceedings, and what a tenant may do to cure this breach and prevent an eviction. All of this must be reviewed beforehand. 

Review Your Mortgage Statement

In the event you have a federally backed mortgage, the CARES ACT prohibits new nonpayment eviction cases provided certain conditions are met.  Governor Murphy and his brethren also encourage the landlord that if you received a repayment plan on your mortgage, you should pass that onto your tenant.  All the more reason to pull that promissory note and mortgage out of the closet for a review. 

Make sure the Landlord Registration Statement is filed with the township.

Landlords that own a one or two family property, ensure that a landlord registration statement is filed with the local municipality.  Amongst other items that give the Court jurisdiction to hear your matter, if the property is not registered, the Court may dismiss or postpone your matter that you waited so long for.  In addition, if the property is three units or more, make sure it is registered with the State of New Jersey. If you do not have it at the time of the hearing, the matter will be further delayed. 

Certified and regular mail receipts are needed when placing government agencies on notice. 

If the tenant takes any type of a government subsidy for the payment of rent, upon filing of your complaint with the Court, make sure you send it to that government entity by certified and regular mail. The Court will be asking for whether these entities were notified and whether it will be certified and regular mail. If this is not done, especially when the trial starts, it will result in a dismissal.   

Document All Communication with Tenants Regarding Payments

Do not make any type of an agreement with a tenant prior to Court. Many will disagree, however, if there is a lease agreement between the parties and absent the tenant paying in full, why would you corner yourself into making another agreement?  However, if you do, put it in writing. Do not be placed into a predicament where it is all verbal and now the Court has to sort out what was agreed to.   Emails and text messages can be saved and used as evidence in court, without any dispute about the content of the communication. 

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