Evictions during the COVID-19 health crisis

Normally in New Jersey, when a residential or commercial tenant stops paying rent, the landlord can file a complaint with the Superior Court of New Jersey in the county where the rental premises is located and the court would normally hear the case within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately for landlords, the COVID-19 pandemic has made evicting a tenant much more difficult.

On March 19, 2020, New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy issued Executive Order 106, which suspended evictions for both residential and commercial tenants throughout the State – this is referred to as an “eviction moratorium”.  The eviction moratorium will remain in effect until two months after the governor declares an end to the COVID-19 health crisis.

While the moratorium is in effect, landlords can still file for the eviction of tenants and even engage in settlement discussions with the tenant to try and resolve any disputes outside of court.  Once the moratorium is over, the court will schedule cases to be heard in the order that they were filed.  This means that a landlord who wants to evict a tenant should file a complaint as soon as possible even though a hearing may not be scheduled for several months.

Even while the eviction moratorium there are exceptions for emergent circumstances.  An example of emergent circumstances that the exception would apply to would be a situation where the tenant was recklessly or willfully damaging the rental property or where the tenant is using the rental property for illegal activities.  The court will take into consideration the circumstances of each case in determining whether a trial is warranted.

For situations where a tenant has stopped paying rent, courts are now allowing landlords to use a tenant’s security deposit to cover some of the unpaid rent.  However, landlords must be careful to follow the proper procedure for doing so.

Finally, landlords who would like to evict a tenant from a premise which is leased for non-residential purposes may be able to lock out a tenant out of a rental premises without ever having to file an eviction action with the court – this type of eviction is called a self-help eviction and is only allowed in limited circumstances for commercial tenancies.  Whether a landlord would be permitted to use self-help to evict a tenant would depend on the language contained in the lease agreement.  Landlords should exercise caution before resorting to self-help since they could be liable to the tenant for damages and could be charged with a disorderly person’s offense if they resort to self-help and they were not legally entitled to do so.

The attorneys at our firm have years of experience in handling landlord tenant matters for residential and commercial landlords and have the knowledge necessary to assist you in determining the proper route to take to solve your situation.  Our office offers free consultations up to thirty minutes and would be happy to discuss your case with you if you have a tenant who has stopped paying rent or is causing problems related to the rental premises.