In New Jersey, the only way tenants can be evicted from their rental premises is if a judge permits the eviction after a lawsuit has been decided. A landlord cannot evict a tenant or remove a tenant’s belongings from the premises without first obtaining a judgment for possession and warrant of removal.
There is a strict process for evicting a tenant in New Jersey. Most disputes between landlords and tenants are resolved by the landlord/tenant section of the New Jersey Superior Court, Special Civil Part.
The following is a general list of some of the reasons a landlord might file a complaint in the landlord/tenant section:
- Failure to pay rent.
- Continued disorderly conduct.
- Destruction or damage to property caused willfully or by gross negligence.
- Habitual lateness in paying rent.
- Violation of rules and regulations such as having pets when lease prohibits, after written notice to comply, as outlined in a lease or other document.
- Tenant’s conviction for a drug offense.
Before filing some complaints, a landlord must give a tenant a written notice to stop, or cease, a particular conduct. Only when a tenant continues that conduct, after the notice to stop, can a landlord try to have the tenant evicted. Also, complaints 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. A landlord cannot file a complaint in the landlord/tenant section to collect the unpaid rent after receiving a judgment for possession. Claims to collect back rent must be filed in the regular Special Civil Part or small claims section, depending upon the amount of rent owed.
A complaint must be filed with the Special Civil Part Clerk’s Office in the county where the rental premises are located. The facts contained in the complaint supporting the action must be verified by the person who has personal knowledge of those facts. When filing a complaint, you must complete the landlord/tenant summons and complaint, both of which are available at the Special Civil Part Clerk’s Office. You must submit an original summons and complaint, plus two additional copies of both, for each tenant named in the complaint. You must specify the type of complaint you are filing, as indicated on the complaint form. All completed forms must be signed. You will be notified by postcard when to appear in court.
As the landlord, you must come to court and prove that the statements made in the complaint are true. Arrange to have in court any witnesses you need to prove your case. A written statement, even if made under oath, cannot be used in court. Only actual in-court testimony of the witnesses will be allowed. Prepare in advance your questions for the witnesses that will help prove your case. Bring to court all records of any transactions that could help you prove your case. Such records might include:
- Leases, estimates, bills, rent receipts or ledgers.
- Dishonored checks.
- Letters, Photographs.
- Other documents proving your claim.
Both the landlord and the tenant must appear in court at the time and date stated on the summons unless otherwise notified by the court. Bring all evidence and witnesses needed to present your case. On the trial date, the court will announce all of the cases listed for trial that day so the court knows who is present. One of the following could occur:
- TRIAL – If the parties cannot settle their case, there will be a trial. The judge will either grant or deny judgment for possession to the landlord.
- SETTLEMENT – The court will encourage the landlord and tenant to settle their case voluntarily. In order for settlements to be enforceable, certain certifications by the landlord and the landlord’s attorney, if there is an attorney, must be filed with the court. It is important the parties understand what they have agreed to in their settlement. Settlement forms are available in any Special Civil Part Court and require the judge’s review and approval for residential tenants appearing pro se, or without an attorney.
- DISMISSAL – If the landlord does not appear, the case will be dismissed.
- DEFAULT – If the landlord appears but the tenant does not, the case will be defaulted in favor of the landlord.
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