Housing
The Nuts and Bolts of Fighting Evictions
This information last reviewed: 10/27/2011

The tenant’s right to court process 

In New Jersey, the only way a tenant can be evicted or removed from his or her rental unit is if a Superior Court judge orders the eviction. An order for eviction can come only after the landlord has sued the tenant for eviction in the Superior Court and won. There is no other way that you can be evicted from your home or apartment. This means that you do not have to move out simply because the landlord tells you to or threatens to evict you if you don’t leave.

This section explains the legal eviction process. It starts by explaining the law that protects you from removal by the landlord without being taken to court first. The section, What Happens After the Eviction Hearing?, explains what should happen if you lose your case in court and the judge enters an eviction order against you. 

An illegal eviction is now a disorderly persons offense 

A lockout or eviction is unlawful if it is not done by a special court officer with a legal court order. “Self-help” evictions by landlords are illegal. If you are locked out or evicted by your landlord and not by a special court officer, or if your landlord shuts off your utilities or does other things to try to make you leave, you should call the police immediately. (You should also call a private attorney or contact your regional Legal Services office.) The law now says that the police must make sure you get back into your apartment. Read the rest of this section to find out why the police must do this.

The law in New Jersey is clear. Landlords or their employees can’t legally evict tenants by themselves. (These kinds of evictions are sometimes called self-help evictions.) Police officers cannot evict tenants. Only a special court officer with a warrant for removal issued by a judge can actually evict a tenant. Landlords who try to evict tenants by themselves are doing something illegal, even if they have gone to court and sued the tenant for eviction. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A: 39-1 and 2; N.J.S.A. 2A:18-57; N.J.S.A 2A:42-10.16; and related statutes.

But even though the law is clear, some landlords still evict tenants illegally, or scare tenants into leaving by threatening to throw them out. The problem is that many times, when frightened tenants call the police, the police will not help. The police say that they can’t help because what the landlord is doing is not listed in the criminal part of the law books as a “disorderly persons offense” or a “crime.” The police often say that they only deal with crimes, even if they know that what the landlord is doing is wrong.

The New Jersey Tenants Organization (NJTO) had been trying for many years to solve this problem. They finally succeeded. On January 12, 2006, the law was changed. (See P.L. 2005, c. 319.) Illegal evictions are now a disorderly persons offense, and the new law is in the criminal part of the law books. The police now know that they must help tenants who are being illegally evicted by their landlords.

Here are some of the things this law does. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2C:33-11.1.

  • The new law requires the police or any other public officials who find out about an illegal “self-help” eviction to warn the landlord or his workers to stop. If the landlord does not stop, then the landlord has broken the law. If the police arrive after the landlord has already locked the tenant out, the police must tell the landlord to let the tenant go back in. If the landlord refuses, then the landlord has broken the law.

  • The police must make sure that tenants who are illegally evicted get back into their home or apartment. If the landlord tries to keep the tenants from going back in, the police must stop the landlord. The police must also give the landlord a summons to go to court, or even arrest the landlord if he refuses to let the tenant go back in.

  • The new law says that a landlord who tries to get a tenant out by doing any one of the following things is breaking the law. These things are now disorderly persons offenses: (1) The landlord uses violence or threats of violence to get the tenants out; or (2) the landlord says or does other things to try to scare the tenants into leaving; or (3) the landlord takes the tenant’s property and puts it outside; or (4) the tenant lets the landlord in peacefully, and then the landlord forces the tenant out; or (5) the landlord padlocks the door or changes the locks; or (6) the landlord shuts off the electricity or gas, or has them shut off, in order to make the tenant leave; or (7) the landlord tries anything else to get the tenant out.

  • The only way the landlord can evict the tenant is if a special court officer with a legal court order called a warrant for removal comes out himself and does the eviction. And even before the special court officer can do the eviction, he must give a copy of the warrant for removal to the tenant (or leave a copy on the tenant’s door) at least three days before coming out to do the actual eviction. The new law says that the warrant for removal must tell the tenant many things, including that self-help evictions by landlords are now disorderly persons offenses. The warrant must also let the tenants know the earliest day on which the special court officer can come back to do the eviction.

  • The new law says that if a special court officer does do a legal eviction, he or she must fill out a new form called an “execution of warrant for possession.” The new form must say when the legal eviction took place, and give the name, signature, and position of the special court officer who did the eviction. The special court officer is required to immediately give a copy of this new form to both the landlord and tenant (or a member of the tenant’s family), and also to post it on the door of the dwelling unit.

    This last part is very important. It makes the job of the police officer who is called by a frightened tenant very easy. If the landlord does not have a copy of a valid execution of warrant filled out by a special court officer, then the landlord is doing an illegal eviction. The police officer must tell him to stop trying to evict the tenant. If the landlord does not stop, then the police officer must stop the landlord and charge him with a disorderly persons offense. The police officer must also protect the tenant and see that the tenant gets back into the home.

  • The new law says that the Attorney General of New Jersey must make sure that all state and local police officers, prosecutors, and public officials know about the new law. Each police officer must be given a form that describes the new law and the police officers’ responsibilities to enforce it. Police officers must also be given special training to make sure they know what they have to do to stop illegal evictions.

  • The new law also says that tenants who are legally evicted commit an offense if they intentionally damage or destroy the landlord’s property. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3(a)(2). In addition to criminal penalties, convicted tenants can be required to pay the landlord for the damage.

Holding your property for rent

It is also against the law for a landlord to hold or take your clothing or furniture to force you to pay rent. This is called a distraint and it is illegal, even if you owe rent to the landlord. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:33-1.

For information about citations, and how to get more information about a particular law, see Finding the Law in the Landlord Tenant section.

Hotel and motel residents

Guests in hotels and motels do not have to be taken to court to be evicted. The hotel owner or operator can lock guests out of their rooms if they don’t pay their bills or if they disturb the peace. But what about people who have no other place to live and, because of the housing shortage, are forced to live in motels or hotels for months or even years at a time? Are these people residents or tenants who can only be evicted through the court process?

We believe that the answer is yes. However, recent court decisions show that the courts are interpreting the law on a case-by-case basis. In one case, a family that lived in a hotel for over two years because they had no other place to live was considered a tenant and could only be evicted through court order under the Anti-Eviction Act. Cite: Williams v. Alexander Hamilton Hotel, 249 N.J. Super. 481 (App. Div. 1991). In another case, a person who lived in a motel for two months was not a tenant and could be locked out of his room without court process. Cite: Francis v. Trinidad Motel, 261 N.J. Super. 252 (App Div. 1993). In another case, the court held that a person who lived in a hotel for three years and had no intention of moving to other accommodations was a tenant, and that the hotel was the tenant’s permanent home. The tenant was entitled to the protection of the Anti-Eviction Act and had the right to sue for damages for an illegal lockout. Cite: McNeil v. Estate of Lachman, 285 N.J. Super. 212 (App. Div. 1995).

If you live in a hotel or motel, it will help if you can show that the owner agreed, or should have known, that you were not just a short-term guest, or that the owner did or said things that made you believe that you were a tenant. You may need the help of a private attorney or Legal Services if you find yourself in this situation.

Hotel or rooming and boarding house residents

Residents of licensed rooming and boarding homes are protected from self-help evictions. Owners must evict residents through the same court process as any other tenant. Cite: N.J.A.C. 5:27-3.3(c). Some hotels and motels are really rooming and boarding houses because people live there as their only residence for extended periods of time. The law considers a hotel or motel a rooming and boarding house if at least 15 percent of the rooms are occupied by people who have lived there for more than 90 days. This means that all of the residents (but not the guests) at the hotel or motel have the same rights as rooming and boarding house residents, including the right to be evicted only through court process. Cite: N.J.S.A. 55:13B-3(h). You may need the help of a private attorney or Legal Services to figure out if this law applies to you.

For information about citations, and how to get more information about a particular law, see Finding the Law in the Landlord Tenant section.

The legal eviction process

NOTE! As mentioned above, the only person who can legally evict you is a judge. The judge can order your eviction only after a court hearing at which the landlord has proven one or more of the “causes” for eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act.

Also note: If you live in a small building (three apartments or less), and the owner actually lives in one of the apartments, the landlord does not have to prove one of the causes for eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act. But the landlord must still take you to court to evict you.

In addition, the law requires that the landlord give the tenant certain notices before going to court, except for nonpayment of rent. These notices must describe in detail the cause for eviction and must be given within certain time periods. The Anti-Eviction Act is explained in more detail in The Causes for Eviction. The tenant’s right to court process. This section explains the notices required before an eviction complaint is filed, the process of filing and serving the eviction complaint, and what you can expect at the court hearing in an eviction case.

Notices required before an eviction suit

The Anti-Eviction Act requires that for every cause for eviction except nonpayment of rent, the landlord must serve you with a notice to quit and, in some cases, a notice to cease. In general, notices must specify in detail the cause of the termination of the tenancy (why the landlord wants to evict you). Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2. Other notices, such as a notice to cease, must state precisely and in detail the nature of the offense and the conduct that the landlord wants the tenant to cease. Cite: Carteret Properties v. Variety Donuts, 49 N.J. 116 (1967). Specific detailed notices are required and are extremely important for a number of reasons. A tenant must know exactly the conduct that the landlord wants the tenant to cease, so that the tenant can stop the conduct and avoid eviction. A tenant must know exactly why the landlord is terminating the tenancy so that a tenant can know how to prepare for the trial.

Landlords must “strictly comply” with notice requirements and, if they do not, the eviction action should be dismissed. Cite: Carteret Properties v. Variety Donuts, Inc., 49 N.J. 116 (1967); Housing Authority of the City of Newark v. Raindrop, 287 N.J. Super. 222 (App. Div. 1996); Bayside Condo, Inc. v. Mahoney, 254 N.J. Super. 323 (App. Div. 1992).

No notices needed for nonpayment of rent

The most common cause for eviction is nonpayment of rent. For this cause, and only for this cause, the landlord does not have to send you any advance notice before filing a complaint for eviction in court. This means that if you fail to pay rent, the landlord can go directly to court and you may not get any warning from the landlord before receiving the court summons and complaint. You do have to receive advance notice before the landlord can take you to court for not paying an increase in rent. The section called Rent Increases, explains the proper form for this notice.

However, if you live in public or federally subsidized housing, you may be entitled to certain notices before the landlord files an eviction action for nonpayment of rent. A public housing authority must give a tenant 14 days’ notice. There are many types of federally subsidized housing, and the requirements for the notices are different for each. Tenants facing eviction from such housing should contact an attorney to see if the proper notices have been given.

Notice to cease and notice to quit

If you don’t owe rent but the landlord is trying to evict you for one of the other causes under the Anti-Eviction Act, the landlord must give you certain written notices before taking you to court. For some causes, you must be given a notice to cease first, then a notice to quit. For other causes, you must be given only a notice to quit.

Notice to cease

A notice to cease is a notice or letter telling you to stop certain conduct that is not allowed under your lease or under the Anti-Eviction Act. The notice must tell you exactly what conduct the landlord is complaining about. Cite: Carteret Properties v. Variety Donuts, 49 N.J. 116 (1967). The notice must also tell you that if you stop the wrong conduct, you won’t be evicted. If you stop the conduct that is described in the notice, the landlord cannot evict you. Cite: A.P. Development Corp. v. Band, 113 N.J. 485 (1988) and RWB Newton Assoc. v. Gunn, 224 N.J. Super. 704 (App. Div. 1988).

A notice to cease is not required for every cause for eviction. A notice to cease is necessary only if you are charged with being disorderly, breaking rules and regulations, breaking an agreement in the lease, or paying rent late.

Notice to quit and demand for possession

A notice to quit is a notice or letter from the landlord that terminates your tenancy and tells you to move out by a certain date because you have engaged in certain conduct that is not allowed under your lease or under the Anti-Eviction Act. For those eviction causes that also require a notice to cease, the notice to quit also will tell you that since you have ignored the notice to cease, you must move out by a certain date. The notice must tell you specifically what it is that you have done wrong. For causes that do not require the landlord to give you a notice to cease, this is the first and only notice you will get before the landlord can file an eviction suit.

Service of the notice to quit

A notice to quit must either be:

  • Given to you directly;
  • Left at your house, apartment, or mobile home with someone who is at least 14 years old; or
  • Sent by certified mail.

The notice can be sent by regular and certified mail at the same time. If you don’t pick up the certified mail and the regular mail isn’t returned to the landlord, the court will presume that you have been served. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2.

Time required before eviction suit

The Anti-Eviction Act requires the landlord to give you a certain period of time before filing a suit in court for your eviction. This time period must be described in the notice to quit. The time periods vary depending on the cause for eviction in the Anti-Eviction Act. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2.

Here are some examples:

  • Only three days’ notice is required if the landlord wants to evict you for being disorderly or destroying property.
  • One month’s notice is required if the landlord wants to evict you for breaking the lease rules or for refusing to accept a change in the lease.
  • Two months’ notice is required if the landlord wants to move into your house or apartment.
  • Three months’ notice is required if the landlord is trying to board up or demolish the building because of code violations.
  • Eighteen months’ notice is required if the landlord wants to permanently retire your apartment building from residential use.

Please see the section, The Causes for Eviction, to find out how much notice is required for each particular cause for eviction. It is important to remember that no notice period is necessary to bring an eviction suit for nonpayment of rent. It is also important to remember that you do not have to move out just because the landlord tells you to move. You have a right to go to court and explain to the judge why you shouldn’t have to move.

The court complaint

How does a landlord start an eviction suit if you are still in your apartment or house after the time in the notice to quit has run out? At that point, the landlord can prepare a complaint for your eviction. The complaint states that the landlord wants you out of the rental unit and describes the specific causes for the eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act. The complaint is filed in the Superior Court, Special Civil Part. This is the court that hears landlord-tenant cases.

The summons

The summons is a paper from the court that tells you when and where the court will hear your case. The summons is attached to the complaint, and together these papers are given to you by the court. The summons and complaint can be mailed to you by the court, delivered to you by an officer of the court, left at your home with a child over the age of 14, or posted on your door.

Information about tenants’ rights

The Supreme Court has adopted a set of instructions that a judge will read to the audience in court. These instructions explain court procedures and let tenants know about some of their rights. A written set of these instructions must be served with the summons and complaint. Cite: Community Realty Management v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998).

Time from complaint to court date

The summons and complaint will tell you when to appear in court. The court rules require that there be at least 10 days between the day you receive the summons and the day you must appear in court.

If the hearing is scheduled for a date that is less than 10 days from the date on which you received the summons and complaint, tell the judge when you appear in court and ask the judge to postpone the hearing.

Going to court

The date, time, and place of the court hearing in your case are listed on the summons. You must appear in court at the right date and time if you want to defend against the eviction, or try to get more time to pay rent or move out. The first thing that will happen in court is that the judge will “call the list,” or call out the names of the landlord and tenant in each case. It is important that you be present to answer when the judge calls your name and case. If you do not answer, the judge will enter a default judgment against you. This means that the landlord has the right to evict you just because you failed to appear. There is no other penalty for not showing up.

If the landlord does not answer, the case should be dismissed. You should stay in court, however, until you are given permission to leave by the judge or another court official.

If you have already moved out by the court date, it is a good idea to show up in court and ask the judge to dismiss the complaint because you are no longer living there. If you cannot do this, you should write to or call the court.

Knowing what is going on

At the very beginning of the court session, the judge will read a set of instructions to all people in the courtroom. (These instructions should also be available in written form in the courtroom. If you cannot find a copy, ask a court official where they are located.) The judge should also give his oral and written instructions in Spanish. In addition, there may be a videotape explaining court procedures. It is important to listen carefully to what the judge is saying and to read the instructions. If you do not understand what is happening, or if you are not sure what you are doing, you should ask the judge to explain matters to you. The Supreme Court of New Jersey is very concerned that tenants who appear in court to represent themselves be aware of their rights and treated fairly. Cite: Community Realty Management Company v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998).

Postponing your court hearing

You should call the Clerk of the Superior Court, Special Civil Part, or the judge’s office, if for some reason you can’t make it to court on the day of your case. You should explain why you need a new court date and ask for a postponement. You should also call the landlord or the landlord’s attorney and ask the landlord to agree to postpone the hearing. You should try to ask for an adjournment at least five days before the court date. Notify the landlord that you are asking for an adjournment. If you do not ask five days in advance, the request may not be allowed unless you can show exceptional circumstances. Last-minute requests for postponements are usually not allowed.

If an emergency such as illness or a car breakdown prevents you from going to court, you should call the court and ask for a postponement, even if it is the morning of the court hearing.

Please be aware that, in some counties, postponements are rarely given. In those counties, the landlord has to agree and there has to be a very good reason to get your hearing postponed.

Settling your case with the landlord

You can always settle your case with your landlord, even after you receive a summons and complaint, and until the judge actually begins a hearing in your case. If you reach an agreement to settle your case, get the agreement in writing and be sure that you and your landlord fully understand the terms of the agreement. You should only make an agreement with your landlord if the agreement is both fair and realistic. An agreement that you cannot keep will only lead to your eviction at a later time.

Be careful if you settle your case before the court hearing. If you reach an agreement before the court date, be sure that the landlord agrees to dismiss the complaint or officially end the case against you. This requires the landlord to notify the court clerk. You should also check with the court clerk yourself to make sure that the complaint has been dismissed.

In settling a case, try to get the landlord to agree to terms that will help you. For example, try to get the landlord to agree to make repairs in your apartment and list those repairs in writing in the settlement agreement.

What should you do if you reach an agreement with the landlord on the day you have to go to court? To dismiss the complaint on the court day, the landlord has to tell the judge directly. This means that you should wait until the landlord tells the judge that the case has been settled. It is important that, no matter when you settle the case, the court is notified by the landlord that the case has been ended.

There have been situations where a landlord tells the tenant that the case is settled and that the court case will be dropped. The tenant then does not show up in court. The landlord then will go before the judge and get an eviction order for the absent tenant.

Remember: Always go to court on the date listed on the summons.

Some settlements are agreements that “a judgment for possession will enter.” This settlement gives the landlord the right to evict the tenant. Other settlements state that the tenant can stay if the tenant lives up to all of the terms of the agreement. This type of settlement will usually state that if the tenant does not live up to all of the terms of the agreement, the landlord has the right to evict.

Some settlements have to be approved by the court in the courtroom. Other settlements can be approved by the judge at a later time. For more information on settlements, see the Section, Court Rules to Help Tenants.

Mediation

In most courts, mediation is required in eviction cases. This means that, before a judge will hear an eviction case, you and your landlord must first meet with a law clerk, other court workers, and even other attorneys, to see if the case can be settled. These people are called mediators. A mediator is not supposed to take sides. The mediator’s job is to help you and your landlord find a way to reach an agreement without having to go to trial.

In mediation, for example, if you don’t have all of the rent you owe, you may be able to get your landlord to agree to allow you to pay part of the back rent each month until the whole amount is paid. If the landlord agrees to this, the mediator will usually write down the agreement and give each of you a copy. As long as you keep your part of the agreement, the landlord can’t evict you without first starting a new case and proving to the court that he or she has the right to evict you. If you don’t live up to your agreement, your landlord can evict you right away.

You are not required to reach an agreement in mediation. You do not have to accept the mediator’s suggestions. You always have the right to go before the judge and have the judge decide your case.

A mediator should not offer you any confusing legal advice, especially if you don’t have a lawyer or if you are not sure of your legal rights. A mediator is not a judge. If you are pressured by a mediator, ask to end the mediation.

Defending your case in court

The judge will hold hearings in individual cases after he or she calls the list of all of the cases. This means that when you go to court for your hearing, you must be ready to show the judge why you should not be evicted. In other words, you must be ready to defend yourself against the cause or causes for eviction that are listed by your landlord in the complaint.

The common defenses to eviction are explained in more detail in the section, Defenses to Eviction.

NOTE! These defenses could include, for example, showing that the landlord has not sent you the proper notice to cease or notice to quit, or showing that the conduct that the landlord is complaining about did not happen.

Whatever defenses you use, you must be prepared to present proof (evidence) to back up your defense. This evidence can include written documents, photographs, and the testimony of witnesses. You must take with you to court any and all evidence you think you need for your defense. Examples of the types of evidence that may be used include the following:

  • Photos of your apartment;
  • Receipts for rent or repairs and canceled checks;
  • Inspection reports (the court may require the inspector to come to court and may not consider reports without the inspector being there); and
  • A copy of your lease and letters to the landlord.

Any witnesses whom you call to testify on your behalf must be present in court on the day of the hearing. The court will not accept a letter from your witness. You will also testify on your own behalf, so it is important for you to practice your testimony—what you are going to say to the judge—before you go to court.

The hearing

A hearing is the time when the judge listens to witnesses and reads documents about your case. The judge hears from the landlord and the landlord’s witnesses first. At this point, the landlord may introduce or give the judge written letters or documents to prove his case. You have the right to examine the documents to make sure that the documents are what the landlord says they are. After the landlord and his or her witnesses have testified to the judge, you can ask them questions about what they have said. You should not be afraid to ask any questions you have. You do not tell your side of the story at this time. You only ask questions. Your landlord or his or her witnesses may not be able to answer your questions or may say something that will help your case.

The judge will hear from you and your witnesses next. This is when you will get a chance to tell the judge your story and explain why the landlord should not be able to evict you. It is also your time to give the judge any letters, reports, photographs, or receipts that support your side of the argument. You can be questioned by the landlord or his or her lawyer. You can then present any other witnesses or evidence you think is important to your defense. For example, if your defense is that your apartment is uninhabitable because of the conditions, you should request that the housing inspector who inspected your apartment appear as a witness, and that he or she bring the inspection records.

Note: If the inspector will not appear voluntarily, you will have to subpoena the head of the inspection department. Ask the clerk of the court or a Legal Services office for a subpoena form and instructions on how to issue it.

The judge’s decision

The judge makes a decision after hearing all of the evidence from you and your landlord. The judge usually announces his decision immediately after hearing the evidence. If you win, the judge will dismiss or throw out the landlord’s case. This means that you are not evicted and you can remain in your rental unit.

If you lose, the judge enters a judgment for possession in favor of the landlord. A judgment for possession is an order for your eviction. It gives the landlord the legal right to have you removed from your apartment or house.

The next step in the eviction process is the act of removing you from your rental unit. This does not happen right away and takes some time to complete. You also have some rights even after the eviction order is given by the judge.

For information about citations, and how to get more information about a particular law, see Finding the Law in the Landlord Tenant section.

The Causes for Eviction

Eviction for cause

Eviction for cause is a basic rule of landlord-tenant law in New Jersey. This means that tenants can be evicted only under one of the causes or grounds for eviction listed in the Anti-Eviction Act. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1. There are 18 different causes for eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act. No tenant can be evicted unless the landlord can establish one of these grounds. The law covers tenants in all types of rental property: a single-family house, an apartment building or complex, or a mobile home. The causes for eviction in the Anti-Eviction Act are listed below.

Exceptions to eviction for cause

Almost all tenants are covered by the Anti-Eviction Act. However, the law does not apply to tenants residing in buildings or houses with three or fewer apartments where the owner lives in one of the apartments. This is known as the “owner-occupied” exception. Tenants subject to the owner-occupied exception may be evicted at the end of the lease term for any reason. If you are a month-to-month tenant living in a building with three or fewer apartments and your landlord lives in one of those apartments, the landlord needs only to give you a month’s notice to quit before taking you to court. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53.

Other exceptions involve tenants with developmental disabilities who permanently occupy a unit. The Anti-Eviction Act does not protect tenants in these situations. The aim of this provision is to enable the eviction without cause of co-tenants living with the developmentally disabled tenant.

As explained in the Hotel and Motel Residents section, hotel and motel guests are not covered by the Anti-Eviction Act unless they have no other home and live there on a continual basis. The Anti-Eviction Act does cover people who are living in rooming and boarding homes. The Hotel or Rooming and Boarding Home Residents discussed this.

Tenants in foreclosed property

Your right to eviction for cause continues even when a bank or mortgage lender files an action to foreclose on your rented property because your landlord has not paid the mortgage. This means that the foreclosing bank or mortgage lender must follow the law and can only evict you for one of the causes under the law. Cite: Chase Manhattan Bank v. Josephson, 135 N.J. 209 (1994).

What if you are not covered by eviction for cause?

It is important to remember that, even if the Anti-Eviction Act does not apply to you, the landlord or property owner still must take you to court before you can be removed from your home. As explained in The Tenant’s Right to Court Process section, a landlord or property owner cannot remove you without court approval. Self-help removals or lockouts are illegal, even if you are not covered by the Anti-Eviction Act.

Note: If you live in public housing, or another type of subsidized housing, you may be entitled to additional notices.

Grounds for Eviction (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1)

The following list of grounds for eviction are described in more detail below, along with information about your rights in each instance.

a. Not paying rent

Notices required before filing eviction suit:

No notices are required, except where the tenant resides in federally subsidized housing. In public housing, a 14-day notice is required.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The Homelessness Prevention Program and Emergency Assistance Program may help with back rent. See the Homelessness section.
  • Landlords sometimes try to evict tenants for charges that are not really part of the “rent.” Additional charges cannot be made part of the rent in an eviction case unless there is a written lease that contains special language. See Late Charges and Attorney's fees. For tenants who live in federally subsidized housing, such as public housing, extra fees like late charges and attorney’s fees can never be included as part of the rent in an eviction case. Landlords and attorneys who wrongly claim that certain charges are part of the rent can be sued under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Cite: Hodges v. Feinstein, 189 N.J. 210 (2007).

b. Disorderly conduct that disturbs other tenants

 Notices required before filing eviction suit:

  • Notice to cease
  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing an eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Notice to cease must specifically and in detail describe the disorderly conduct and demand that the tenant stop it or face eviction. Cite: A.P. Development Corp. v. Band, 113 N.J. 485 (1988). The notice must also tell you that if you stop the disorderly conduct, you won’t be evicted. Cite: RWB Newton Assoc. v. Gunn, 224 N.J. Super. 704 (App. Div. 1988).
  • Disorderly conduct must then continue after the notice to cease for the tenant to be evicted.

c. Damage or destruction of the landlord’s property

Notices required before filing eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The tenant’s conduct that causes the damage must be intentional or grossly negligent. (You can’t be evicted because of damage caused by a simple accident on your part.)

d. Violation of landlord’s rules and regulations

Notices required before filing eviction suit:

  • Notice to cease.
  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least one calendar month before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Notice to cease must specifically and in detail describe the violation of rules and demand that the tenant stop it or face eviction. The notice should cite the rule that the landlord feels is being violated.
  • The rules and regulations must be accepted by the tenant in writing or be part of the lease at the beginning of the lease term.
  • The rules and regulations must be reasonable.
  • Violation of the rules and regulations must be “substantial.”

e. (1) Violation of lease agreement

Notices required before filing eviction suit:

  • Notice to cease.
  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least one calendar month before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Notice to cease must describe the lease violation and demand that the tenant stop it or face eviction. The notice should also cite the number of the lease provision that the landlord feels is being violated.
  • The lease must be reasonable.
  • Violation of the lease must be “substantial.”
  • The landlord must reserve “right of reentry” in the lease. If the lease does not contain these words, or other words giving the landlord the right to go back into the apartment if the tenant breaches the lease, then the right of reentry has not been reserved. (Even if a landlord reserves the right of reentry, the landlord must still go to court and follow all of the other legal requirements described in this manual before he or she can take back the apartment.)

e. (2) Violation of public housing lease agreement provision prohibiting illegal use of drugs or other illegal activities

Notices required before filing eviction suit:

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Federal law allows housing authorities to have a lease provision prohibiting illegal use of controlled dangerous substances (drugs). However, the housing authority must have amended its lease to include this provision.
  • The lease provision must have been in effect at the beginning of the lease term.
  • Eviction may also occur for violation of a public housing lease provision prohibiting “other illegal activities.”
  • The lease may prohibit illegal activity on or off the premises.
  • A public housing authority may evict a tenant when a member of the tenant’s household or a guest engages in drug-related activity, even if the tenant did not know about the drug-related activity. Cite: Dept. of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker, 122 S.Ct. 1230 (2002). The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has urged public housing authorities “to be guided by compassion and common sense” in these cases, and that “(e)viction should be the last option explored, after all others have been exhausted.” The New Jersey courts have agreed with this position. The housing authority has to have a good reason for evicting innocent family members. Cite: Oakwood Plaza Apts. v. Smith, 352 N.J. Super. 467 (App. Div. 2002). If you are a tenant in this situation, you should contact an attorney.

f. Not paying a rent increase

 Notices required before filing an eviction suit

  • One-month notice ending tenancy and notice of the rent increase.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Notice requirements are explained above.
  • The rent increase must not be unconscionable (unreasonable) or must comply with local rent control law—see section, Rent Increases.

g. Housing or health code violations where any of the following apply:

  • (1) The landlord needs to board up or tear down the building.
  • (2) The landlord cannot correct violations without removing the tenant.
  • (3) The landlord must end overcrowding or an illegal occupancy.
  • (4) A government agency wants to close a building as part of a redevelopment project.

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three months before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Housing or health code violations must be substantial, and the landlord must be financially unable to make repairs.
  • In most cases, the tenant cannot be evicted until relocation assistance is provided. See Relocation assistance, which explains the Relocation Support Program and how to apply for relocation assistance.
  • The state must report to the court whether repairs can be made with tenants present for reason g.(2).

h. Landlord wants to permanently retire building from residential use

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least 18 months before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The notice must say in detail what the landlord plans to do with the building. If the landlord’s notice fails to clearly state what the future use of the property will be, the notice is defective and the court cannot evict the tenant. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(b); Sacks Realty v. Batch, 235 N.J. Super. 269, aff'd. 248 N.J. Super. 424 (App. Div. 1991).
  • The landlord must send a copy of the notice to quit to the Department of Community Affairs and to the rent control office.
  • The tenant cannot be evicted unless the landlord has all necessary approvals to convert the building to non-residential use.
  • This ground cannot be used for eviction in order to avoid relocation assistance that is available in the case of housing and health code violations—see g.
  • The landlord is liable for damages if the tenant is evicted for this reason and the landlord then re-rents to another tenant.

i. Not accepting changes in the lease

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least one month before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Changes in the lease must be “reasonable.”
  • The lease can only be changed at the end of the lease.
  • You can also avoid eviction in cases where you refused to sign a lease or accept a lease change that you thought was unreasonable, even after you lose your case. As long as you agree to accept the new lease or lease change after the hearing is over, and pay any rent due, the landlord must allow you to stay. Cite: Village Bridge Apartments v. Mammucari, 239 N.J. Super. 235 (App. Div. 1990).

j. Paying rent late month after month (habitual lateness)

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to cease.
  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least one month before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The notice to cease must demand that the tenant stop paying rent late.
  • The tenant must continue to pay rent late at least two more times after receiving the notice to cease. Cite: 534 Hawthorne Avenue Corp. v. Barnes, 204 N.J. Super. 144 (App. Div. 1985); Tower Management Corp. v. Podesta, 226 N.J. Super. 300 (App. Div. 1988).
  • If the tenant pays rent late after receiving the notice to cease, the landlord must keep providing the tenant with notices that paying rent late violates the lease. If the landlord does not give this notice every time the landlord accepts a late payment, the landlord can lose the right to evict the tenant. Cite: Ivy Hill Park v. Abutidze, 371 N.J. Super. 103 (App. Div. 2004).

k. Conversion to condominium or cooperative

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three years before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The tenant must be served with notice of intent to convert, the plan for conversion, and a notice of the right to rent comparable housing in addition to the notice to quit.

l. The owner wants to live in the apartment or house

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least two months before filing the eviction suit. If there is a written lease, the eviction suit cannot be filed until after the lease expires.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Only applies where (1) the landlord is converting the apartment into a condominium and wants to sell it to a buyer who will move in; (2) the owner of three or fewer condominium or cooperative units wants to move in, or is selling the unit to a buyer who wants to move in; or (3) the owner of a house or building with three or fewer apartments wants to move in or is selling the house or building to a buyer who wants to move in.
  • If the landlord is selling to a buyer who wants to move in, there must be a contract for sale and the contract must state that the house or apartment will be vacant at the time of closing.
  • The buyer or owner must intend to live in the house or apartment and not convert it to commercial use. Cite: Aquino Colonial Funeral Home v. Pittari, 245 N.J. Super. 585 (App. Div. 1991).

m. Tenant loses a job that includes rental unit

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Applies where the tenant works for the landlord as a janitor, superintendent, or in some other way; the tenant gets to live in the apartment as part of the job; and the landlord ends the tenant’s job.

n. Conviction of a drug offense

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The drug offense must have taken place in the apartment building or on the grounds of the apartment complex.
  • The tenant must be convicted of a drug offense. (“Conviction” means pleading guilty or being found guilty in court.) This also applies if the tenant is a juvenile and has been found delinquent for a drug offense.
  • This will not apply if the person convicted has completed or been admitted to a drug rehabilitation program.
  • This also applies if the tenant (1) lets a family member or anyone else who has been convicted of a drug offense in the building or complex live in the tenant’s apartment, or (2) has in the past allowed that person to live in the apartment. This section does not apply to permitting a juvenile to occupy the premises where the juvenile has been found delinquent for the offense of use or possession.
  • The tenant being evicted for letting a drug offender live in the apartment must know that the person has been convicted. If not, the tenant cannot be evicted. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Hoboken v. Alicea, 297 N.J. Super. 310 (App. Div. 1997); Housing Authority of the City of Jersey City v. Thomas, 318 N.J. Super. 191 (App. Div. 1999). However, if the tenant lives in subsidized housing—even if it is privately owned—the landlord may be able to evict the tenant even if the tenant did not know. But the landlord must have a good reason for evicting an innocent tenant in this situation. Cite: Oakwood Plaza Apts. v. Smith, 352 N.J. Super. 467 (2002).
  • No eviction suit may be brought more than two years after the date of the conviction, or more than two years after the person’s release from jail, whichever is later.
  • Specific rules apply when the landlord is a public housing authority. See e.(2).

o. Conviction of assaulting, attacking, or threatening the landlord

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The tenant must be convicted of assaulting or threatening harm to the landlord, a member of the landlord’s family, or the landlord’s employees. (“Conviction” means pleading guilty or being found guilty in court.) This also applies if the tenant is a juvenile who has been found delinquent for such acts.
  • This also applies if the tenant (1) lets a family member or anyone else who has been convicted of such assaults or threats live in the tenant’s apartment, or (2) has in the past allowed that person to live in the apartment.
  • The tenant who is being evicted for letting a person convicted of such assaults or threats live in the apartment must know of the conviction. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Hoboken v. Alicea, 297 N.J. Super. 310 (App. Div. 1997); Housing Authority of the City of Jersey City v. Thomas, 318 N.J. Super. 191 (App. Div. 1999).
  • No eviction suit may be brought more than two years after the date of the conviction, or more than two years after the person’s release from jail, whichever is later.

p. Engaging or being involved in drug activity, theft, or assaults or threats against a landlord

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • Notice to quit—must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing the eviction suit.

Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • Under this section, unlike sections n., o., and q., the landlord does not have to show a conviction—only that the activity violates criminal law.
  • The drug activity must have occurred in the apartment building or apartment complex. However, this section will not apply if the person who has been engaging in drug-related activity completes or is admitted to a drug rehabilitation program.
  • The assault or terroristic threats must have involved the landlord, a member of the landlord’s family, or an employee of the landlord.
  • Theft means theft of property on the leased premises—from the landlord, the leased premises, or from other tenants residing in the leased premises.
  • This section also applies if the tenant (1) lets a family member or anyone else who has engaged in these activities live in the tenant’s apartment, or (2) has in the past allowed that person to live in the apartment. However, this section will not apply if the person who has been engaging in drug- related activity is a juvenile who has been found delinquent for the offense of use or possession.
  • The tenant being evicted for letting an offender live in the apartment must know that the person has been engaging in drug-related activity. If not, the tenant cannot be evicted. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Hoboken v. Alicea, 297 N.J. Super. 310 (App. Div. 1997); Housing Authority of the City of Jersey City v. Thomas, 318 N.J. Super. 191 (App. Div. 1999). However, if the tenant lives in subsidized housing—even if it is privately owned—the landlord may be able to evict the tenant even if the tenant did not know. But the landlord must have a good reason for evicting an innocent tenant in this situation. Cite: Oakwood Plaza Apts. v. Smith, 352 N.J. Super. 467 (2002).
  • Specific rules apply when the landlord is a public housing authority. See also e.(2).

q. Conviction of theft offense

Notices required before filing an eviction suit:

  • The notice to quit is not specified in the statute. However, it would appear from the rest of the statute (sections b., c., m., n., o., p.) that a notice to quit must be served on the tenant at least three days before filing the eviction suit.

 Additional Comments/Suggestions:

  • The tenant must have been convicted of theft of property from the landlord, from the leased premises, or from other tenants residing in the same building or complex. (“Conviction” means pleading guilty or being found guilty in court.) This section applies if the tenant is a juvenile who has been found delinquent for such acts.
  • This section also applies if the tenant lets a family member or anyone else who has been convicted of theft occupy the premises.
  • The tenant who is being evicted for letting an offender live in the apartment must know that that person has been convicted. If not, the tenant cannot be evicted. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Hoboken v. Alicea, 297 N.J. Super. 310 (App. Div. 1997); Housing Authority of the City of Jersey City v. Thomas, 318 N.J. Super. 191 (App. Div. 1999).

Note: If you live in public housing, or another type of subsidized housing, you may be entitled to additional notices.