10 Things to know when going to Tenancy Court

Article written based on New Jersey Law

1. When the Clerk or Judge calls the list of all matters scheduled, if the landlord is present in the courtroom and the tenant is not, the tenant will be “in default.” In that case, a judgment granting the landlord possession of the leased property may be entered against the tenant after the landlord has filed an affidavit proving a right to possession. Forms are available in the courthouse. If the tenant is present in the courtroom and the landlord is not, the landlord’s complaint will be dismissed without prejudice, meaning it may be filed again without penalty.

2. In non-payment of rent cases, the tenant has the right to pay the full amount of rent into court (or with the clerk) by the close of the business day that the trial is set for and have the case dismissed.

3. A landlord may not evict a tenant based upon failure to pay any attorneys’ fees, costs or late charges, unless there is a lease provision which states that such fees are collectible as rent. Even if the lease allows such charges to be collected, the amount due as rent may be limited by a rent control ordinance, or in the case of public or federally-assisted housing, by federal law.

4. A landlord and tenant may decide to settle a case before court, but the decision is entirely voluntary. Any settlement should be reduced to writing and filed with the court. This will protect both parties in the event of a breach by the other. Most Courts require that the terms of the agreement be “placed on the record,” in open court. This is for the protection of both parties as well. A settlement agreement should be placed “on the record” as a matter of course if there are complex terms, or if the tenant is agreeing to vacate.

5. If the tenant wishes to challenge the allegations or accuracy of anything stated in the complaint, including the amount of rent due and owing, the tenant has a right to a trial before a judge.

6. The entry of a judgment for possession means that a landlord may request the court clerk issue a Warrant for Removal to a Court Constable and the tenant can be evicted.

7. If a judgment for possession is entered, a Warrant for Removal may not be issued until three days later. The Warrant for Removal authorizes a Special Civil Part Officer (Constable) to lock out the tenant three days after the Warrant has been served on the tenant. Service of the Warrant is generally accomplished by the Officer leaving a copy at the tenant’s apartment. The lock out may not occur on a weekend or on a judicial holiday. Also, weekends and holidays are not counted in calculating the number of days before the Warrant can be signed or issued. This means that the tenant will be locked out at a minimum of eight days from the day judgment of possession is entered..

8. If a judgment for possession is entered after a trial, or because a tenant did not appear in court, or because the tenant agreed with the landlord to the entry of a judgment, a tenant has the right to apply to the court for a hardship stay at any time up to ten (10) days after the Warrant for removal has been executed (door locked!) The court may grant or deny the stay and the landlord has a right to be heard at the hearing on the application. A stay of the judgment means that the tenant will not be removed for as long as the stay is in effect. The court may grant a stay for up to a maximum of 6 months. During the period of the stay, the tenant must pay all back rent, pay the future rent on time, not disturb the neighborhood, and not damage the property. After the stay is over, the tenant may be evicted by the landlord through the Constable without any further judicial action unless the Court grants an extension not to exceed 6 months from the date of judgment.

9. The Court provides a list of social service agencies that may be able to help tenants find other housing or provide grant monies.

10. If a landlord and tenant agree to an eviction, a consent judgment for possession must be prepared. When this happens, the landlord must also submit, in writing, a sworn statement that one of the causes for eviction authorized in the eviction statute has occurred. This sworn statement must be filed before the court will accept the consent judgment. The sworn statement must also state that all fees and charges sought by the landlord are allowed by federal, state and local law, as well as the lease.

About Bruce E. Gudin, Esq

 
 

Bruce E. Gudin, Esq. is a Partner with the firm of Levy, Ehrlich & Petriello, P.C.headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. He can be reached at (973) 643-0040, ext. 104 or by e-mail at Bruce@LEP-lawyers.com.

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