The eviction procedure does not end when court is over. If you lost your case in the summary eviction hearing, the judge will have entered a judgment for possession. This allows the landlord to apply to the court for the issuance of the warrant for removal to have you evicted or removed from the property. There are still certain steps the landlord must follow to actually have you removed from your apartment or house, and this removal procedure takes time. Also, during this time, there are opportunities for the tenant to avoid eviction altogether or to get more time to move out. The judgment for possession does not allow the landlord to garnish your wages or attach any bank accounts you may have.
Note: You will not be locked out on the day of the hearing. You will not have to leave the apartment until after you receive the warrant for removal. After you receive the warrant for removal, you have at least three days to leave your apartment. The three days do not include weekends or legal holidays.
Warrant for removal
After the judgment for possession is signed, the clerk will issue a warrant for removal. The warrant for removal is an order from the judge giving only the court officer or constable (not the landlord) the power to lock you out of your apartment. The law does not allow the warrant for removal to be issued by the court clerk until at least three days after the judge enters a judgment for possession or an order of eviction. The three-day period is the legal amount of time a landlord must wait to start the process of removing you after the judge orders an eviction.
When the constable gets the warrant for removal from the court clerk, the constable then serves a copy of the warrant on the tenant. The warrant states that the tenant has three choices:
Move out within three days to avoid being evicted by the constable. The three days do not include weekends or legal holidays. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.16.
Contest the warrant. This means asking for a new court date so that you can show why you should not be evicted and the warrant should be stopped. Your rent payments must be up to date in order to do this.
Be evicted by the constable. This means that the constable will come to your apartment or house and remove you from the premises.
Time from warrant to eviction
When you are served with the warrant for removal, you then have three days to move out. If you do not move or you do not contest the warrant and get a stay of the warrant from the judge, the constable may evict you at the end of the three days. This three-day period excludes the day the warrant was served, weekends, and legal holidays.
If the constable evicts you
If you do not voluntarily leave the apartment or you do not contest the warrant, the constable will come to your apartment or house and evict you. If you are at home at the time, the constable will put you out and padlock the door. The constable may also remove your things from the house or apartment and have them put on the curb before locking the door.
The warrant gives the constable power to use force or arrest if you try to stop the eviction. This act is legal in New Jersey. It is important that you leave the premises peaceably. By all means, do not argue or fight with the constable.
NOTE! Even if the constable locks you out, it is illegal for a landlord to hold or take your clothing or furniture to force you to pay rent. This act is illegal, even if you owe the rent. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:33-1.
Staying the warrant for removal—getting more time to move
By agreement with the landlord
After a judgment for possession has been entered, and even after a warrant for removal has been served, a tenant may still try to make an agreement with the landlord. If the landlord does agree, make sure the agreement is in writing and that a copy is filed with the court.
Going to court
Whenever you go to court to seek more time to move or to seek a stay of the warrant for removal, it is important to ask for a specific amount of time. Courts may not wish to give an open-ended stay.
Orders for orderly removal—stopping the lockout to get more time to move
When you get the warrant for removal, the warrant will tell you that you will be locked out in three days, not including weekends and holidays. If you cannot be out in three days and need more time to move and have good reason, you can ask the court for more time. One way to do this is to ask the court for an order for orderly removal. This means that the court can give you an extra seven days to move out voluntarily. The court can do this without having a court hearing. The court can allow you this time without requiring you to pay rent.
To get an order for orderly removal, you must go to the court clerk’s office. Take with you your copy of the warrant. Forms for the application for orderly removal should be available in the clerk’s office. You must give notice to the landlord that you are applying for an order. If the court grants an order for orderly removal, the landlord can seek to reverse it, but the landlord must give you notice. Cite: Rule 6:6-6.
If you need to stop the lockout for more than seven days in order to move out voluntarily, you will have to get a hearing date. You can do this by filing an order to show cause. To help you, forms for this should be available in the office of the clerk of the court.
Hardship stays—up to six months
The judge is allowed under law to give a tenant up to six months to stay in the rented property if certain conditions are met. This stay of the warrant for removal is called a hardship stay of eviction. To get a hardship stay, you must show that you have not been able to find any other place to live. You must also show that all of your rent has been paid, or that you are able to pay it. You must agree to pay the rent during the time the judge allows you to stay in the apartment. This means that you cannot get a hardship stay if you are evicted for nonpayment of rent, unless you can pay all of the rent that you owe and are able to pay future rent by the time you appear in court to contest the warrant for removal. In other cases, where you are evicted and your rent is current, a hardship stay can give you up to six more months to find another place to live. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.6.
Stays for terminally ill tenants
The law allows a judge to grant one-year stays of eviction if the tenant is terminally ill. To be eligible for this type of stay, the tenant must meet all of these conditions:
Owe no back rent,
Be terminally ill and so certified by a doctor,
Have been a tenant of the landlord for at least two years before the stay is granted, and
Show that there is a strong chance that the tenant will not be able to find and move to another place without suffering medical harm.
This law applies to all buildings, including owner-occupied buildings. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-59.1.
How to overturn the warrant—vacating the judgment to prevent homelessness
In certain cases you may be able to avoid being evicted, even after the judge has ordered your eviction and the warrant for removal has been served on you by the constable. Also, you may be able to get back into your apartment after the lockout. For example, you may obtain relief if:
You did not get the summons and complaint, and the warrant for removal is the first court paper you received telling you of any legal action against you; or
You have new proof showing that you should have won the case; or
You were told by the landlord that the case was settled and that you did not have to go to court, but the landlord then went to court and obtained a judgment for possession.
Under court rules, a judge has the power to overturn a court decision or vacate a judgment or order. The Supreme Court has ruled that judges can stop an eviction based on nonpayment of rent when the tenant is able to pay all of the rent due (including court costs). Such action is necessary in order to prevent tenants from becoming homeless. A court can set aside a judgment “in the interest of justice.” Even after a tenant has been evicted, a court can order a landlord to let a tenant back into the apartment. Cite: Community Realty Management, Inc. v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998); Morristown Housing Authority v. Little, 135 N.J. 274 (1994).
A formal paper, called an order to show cause or motion, must be filed with the court in order to ask the judge to set aside an eviction judgment. To set aside a judgment under this procedure, you must have all of the rent that is due, plus the landlord’s court costs. You should ask the court clerk to help you file the order to show cause or motion if you can’t get a lawyer to help you. The judge will conduct a hearing on your motion after it is filed with the court.
There are many programs—such as Emergency Assistance (EA) and the Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP)—that provide funds to certain low-income tenants to pay back rent in order to prevent eviction. (See the Homelessness section.) Often, by the time a tenant learns of these programs, applies for help, and is granted assistance with back rent, the judgment for eviction has already been entered by the court and the warrant for removal may have been issued and served on the tenant. If, at this point, you offer to pay all of the rent but the landlord insists on evicting you, you can ask the court to vacate the judgment against you and order the landlord to accept the rent. You can even file for relief (ask that the judgment against you be dismissed) after you are locked out.
The Abandoned Tenant Property Law (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-72)
Sometimes, when a tenant is evicted or leaves an apartment on a voluntary basis, the tenant leaves property behind in the apartment. If you want to go back to get the property you left behind, you should notify the landlord in writing. Be sure to tell the landlord your current address. You should also tell the landlord why you left the property and when you will be back to get it.
A landlord may dispose of a tenant’s property only if the landlord believes that the tenant is not going to try to get back into the apartment legally and has abandoned the items.
In addition, the landlord must give the tenant written notice that the landlord intends to dispose of the property. The notice must give the tenant a time period in which to claim the property. This is:
30 days after delivery of the landlord’s written notice; or
33 days after the notice is mailed, whichever comes first.
If the property is a manufactured or mobile home, the notice must give the tenant:
75 days from the date of delivery of the notice; or
78 days from the date of mailing, whichever comes first.
After notifying the tenant that he intends to sell the tenant’s property, the landlord must store the property in a safe place. The tenant is required to pay a reasonable storage cost and the cost of taking the property to the storage place.
If you want your property back, you should remove it as soon as possible. The landlord may dispose of the property if the tenant does not claim the property in time. Therefore, if you receive such a notice, you should immediately notify the landlord that you intend to reclaim the property. You should respond in writing because this will give you an extra 15 days from the time described above to get your property. If you do not notify the landlord in writing, you must remove the property in the time set out in the landlord’s notice (as described above).
For information about citations, and how to get more information about a particular law, see Finding the Law in the Landlord Tenant section.