Skip Ribbon Commands Skip to main content
Help (new window)
Navigate Up
Legal Services of New Jersey

Apply Online for Legal Help

Housing
Common Lease Terms

The term of the lease

 A lease will contain a term (a length of time that you agree to rent the property). It is usually a month, six months, or a year. If your lease has no set length of time, the term is automatically a month if the rent is paid on a monthly basis. This means that your agreement runs from month to month. Cite: N.J.S.A. 46:8-10. Just because you have a month-to-month lease does not mean that the landlord can get you out at the end of any month. You don’t have to leave just because the term of your lease is up. The law contains special rules for evicting tenants.

The rent payment

The lease will state the amount of rent you agree to pay monthly for the house or apartment. This means that if you sign a one-year lease for $500 a month, you are entering into a contract for $500 for 12 months, or $6,000.

You should always pay your rent by personal check or money order. This way you have a receipt for each payment. You should not pay rent with cash unless you get a signed receipt! Be careful if you use money orders. Sometimes a landlord will claim that he or she did not get your money order. You will then have to ask the bank to find out what happened to it. This can cause you problems if the landlord tries to evict you for nonpayment of rent. In that situation, you will need proof to show the judge that you did pay the rent. Therefore, always get a signed receipt from your landlord for each rent payment, even when you pay by money order. Always keep copies of all of your rent receipts.

The security deposit

The lease may require a security deposit. If a security deposit is required, the written lease should state that it was received and indicate the amount.

Late charges

Many leases require a late charge if the rent is not paid by a certain date of the month. This charge is supposed to cover the money lost by the landlord as a result of the late payment. Courts will enforce late charges if they are reasonable and spelled out in writing in the lease. The landlord cannot evict based upon nonpayment of late charges unless there is an agreement stating that late charges are to be considered part of the “rent.” Cite: 447 Associates v. Miranda, 115 N.J. 522 (1989). In Section 8 housing, a landlord cannot sue to evict for nonpayment of late charges whether they are called rent or not. See Community Realty Management Company v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998). Similarly, a public housing authority cannot evict for nonpayment of late charges even if they are called rent. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Atlantic City v. Taylor, 171 N.J. 580 (2002); Hodges v. Feinstein, 189 N.J. 210 (2007).

Late charges are also not allowed if the tenant did not pay the rent on time because the landlord failed to make needed repairs. Under the Anti-Eviction Act, a tenant who repeatedly pays rent after its due date can be sued for eviction provided that the landlord gives the tenant proper notices. See The Causes for Eviction. In addition, there is a law that states when rent must be paid and when landlords can charge a late fee. This statute does not apply to all tenants. It applies only to apartments rented by senior citizens receiving Social Security Old Age Pensions, Railroad Retirement Pensions, or other government pensions in the place of Social Security Old Age Pensions, and by recipients of Social Security Disability Benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or welfare benefits under WorkFirst NJ. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A: 42-6.1 and 6.3.

The law states that a landlord must allow a tenant a period of “five business grace days” to pay the rent. If a tenant pays the rent in the five-day period, the landlord may not charge a late fee. In counting the five business days, do not include Saturday, Sunday, or a national or state holiday.

If the landlord knows, or should know, that your monthly income regularly does not arrive by a certain day, he should pick a later date that is fair to both of you.

Attorney’s fees

Some leases require a tenant to pay the landlord’s attorney’s fee if the landlord has to use a lawyer to take the tenant to court. If your lease has such a term, and the landlord takes you to court for eviction and wins the case, you will be responsible for paying a “reasonable” fee for the landlord’s attorney. Cite: Community Realty Management v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998); University Court v. Mahasin, 166 N.J. Super. 551 (App. Div. 1979).

Sometimes a landlord will demand attorney’s fees in an eviction action and seek to evict if the tenant cannot pay them. However, in order to do this:

  • There must be a written lease, and
  • The lease must state that attorney’s fees are “additional rent” or “collectible as rent.”

If there is no written lease that describes attorney’s fees as “rent,” you cannot be evicted for failing to pay attorney’s fees. Cite: Community Realty Management v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998).

However, even if there is such a lease provision, the law may limit the amount of your rent due, and the landlord may not be able to evict you for failure to pay attorney’s fees. For example, a public housing authority cannot evict a tenant for nonpayment of attorney’s fees, even if the lease calls the attorney’s fees additional rent. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Atlantic City v. Taylor, 171 N.J. 580 (2002); Hodges v. Feinstein, 189 N.J. 210 (2007). If you live in other housing that receives federal assistance, such as Section 8 housing, you should also argue that the amount of your rent is only what the housing agency handling your Section 8 says it is—that is, it is only the rent amount stated in your lease. Also, if you live under rent control, you should argue that the rent control ordinance limits your rent, and that adding in attorney’s fees as extra or additional rent would exceed the rent control limits. Cite: Housing Authority of the City of Atlantic City v. Taylor, 171 N.J. 580 (2002); Community Realty Management Inc. v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998); Ivy Hill Park Apartments v. Sidisin, 258 N.J. Super. 19 (App. Div. 1992).

In an eviction case, if the judge finds that you are responsible for paying a reasonable fee for the landlord’s attorney, you can be evicted if you do not pay that amount on the day of the hearing. Sometimes a landlord will ask a judge to evict a tenant even though the tenant paid the rent owed before the court date, but failed to include the attorney’s fees with the rent payment. If the landlord tries to do this, the tenant should argue that the landlord, by accepting rent, gave up or “waived” the right to evict for not paying attorney’s fees. Cite: Carteret Properties v. Variety Donuts, Inc., 49 N.J. 116 (1967). However, it is up to the court to decide whether in fact the landlord did give this up. Therefore, it is always important to go to court unless the tenant obtains a statement in writing that the landlord is dismissing the case. Also see Waiver— the landlord knew about it but continued the tenancy.

In New Jersey, leases that give landlords the right to collect attorney’s fees and expenses from you give you the right to collect attorney’s fees and expenses from your landlord. If there is an attorney’s fee clause in your lease, your landlord takes you to court and you win, you may be able to collect attorney’s fees and costs of fighting the lawsuit from your landlord. NJSA 2A: 18-61.66. You can also use this money as a rent credit if you choose. If the case is dismissed because you pay all of the rent owed, you cannot get attorney’s fees and costs. Costs do not include child care, travel costs or missed work time.

Rules and regulations

A lease will often have rules that the landlord wants the tenant to follow. Lease rules require you to conduct yourself in a certain way, or they state that you can’t do certain things in your apartment or in the common areas of your building or complex. For example, your lease may contain rules about using a washing machine in your apartment; about your responsibility to pay for electric, gas, heat, or other utilities if not included in the rent; about how you are to dispose of trash; and how you must use common facilities, such as laundry rooms or playgrounds. Your lease may also contain a “no smoking” clause.

Care of the property

A lease will usually state that you are responsible for any damage done to the property by your children, guests, or pets if it is more than “normal” wear and tear. The law requires tenants to be responsible for the proper care of the landlord’s property even if your written lease contains nothing about this or if you have an oral lease. Under the Anti-Eviction Act, you can be evicted for destroying the landlord’s property.

Notice of repairs

Most leases state that the tenant is responsible for giving the landlord prompt notice of any repairs that need to be made to the property. Tenants have a legal responsibility to notify the landlord of needed repairs, even if there is no written lease. There are several reasons why you should promptly report any defect, particularly such problems as water leaks. These problems can cause additional damage if they are not corrected right away. By giving notice of such problems, you can also avoid any attempt by the landlord to claim that you must pay for the additional damage. You can also avoid giving the landlord a claim against all or part of your security deposit. You should make sure that, when possible, you give notice in writing, keeping a copy for your records.

Disorderly conduct

Under any lease, whether written or spoken, you cannot interfere with the rights of other tenants. This means that you and your family members, guests, and pets cannot act in ways that disturb the peace and quiet of other tenants and neighbors. Under the Anti-Eviction Act, you can be evicted for being disorderly, making too much noise, and disturbing other tenants.

Pets

A written lease usually will state whether the tenant is allowed to have a pet. If your landlord says that it’s okay to have a pet, make sure that you get his or her permission in writing. Many landlords do not permit pets, and the lease will have a “no pets” clause in it.

What happens if a tenant has a pet but the property is sold to a new owner-landlord who wants to prohibit pets?

When the tenant’s lease expires, the new landlord might try to offer the tenant a new lease with a no pets clause. The law now prohibits a new owner-landlord from forcing tenants to give up pets that they were allowed to have by the previous owner. If a tenant has a pet because the old landlord gave permission for the pet, the new landlord must allow the tenant to keep the pet. However, the new landlord can prohibit new tenants from having pets and can try to force an existing tenant to get rid of any pet that is causing problems for other tenants. Cite: Royal Associates v. Concannon, 200 N.J. Super. 84 (App. Div. 1985) and Young v. Savinon, 201 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 1985).

Controlling pets

If you are allowed to have a pet, you must maintain control over it. If you allow your pet to damage the property or interfere with the rights of other tenants, your landlord can demand that you control your pet or remove the animal from the building. Your failure to control your pet also could lead to your eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act.

Pets in public and elderly housing

There are special rules regarding pets for senior citizens who live in rental housing for the elderly. A New Jersey law allows all residents of senior citizen housing projects to have pets. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A-42-104. Federal law also allows the elderly and disabled to own and keep common household pets in federally assisted elderly rental housing. Cite: 12 U.S.C. § 1701n-1. In addition, all tenants of public housing have the right to have one or more pets as long as their owners meet reasonable conditions established by the housing authority. Cite: 42 U.S.C. 1437z-2. New Jersey law also gives residents of all senior citizen projects the right to have pets. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:42-103. This law applies to buildings containing three apartments or more, condominium projects, and cooperative buildings, as long as all of the apartments are for senior citizens. A senior citizen is defined as a person 62 years of age or older and includes the surviving spouse of a senior as long as he or she is at least 55 years old.

Under the law, the landlord cannot refuse to renew a tenant’s lease because the tenant owns a pet. The landlord can make reasonable rules concerning the care and control of pets by tenants and can require a tenant to give away any offspring that the tenant’s pet has, within eight weeks of their birth. The landlord cannot require that the pet be spayed or neutered.

  • The law also allows a landlord to demand that a tenant get rid of a pet if:
  • The tenant does not follow the reasonable rules adopted by the landlord, and this causes a violation of any health or building code.
  • The tenant does not take good care of the pet.
  • The tenant does not control the pet, such as keeping a dog on a leash when taking the animal out for a walk.
  • The tenant does not clean up the pet’s waste when asked to do so by the landlord.
  • The tenant does not keep his or her pet from making waste on the sidewalks, doorways, hallways, or other common areas in and around the complex.

Entering the tenant’s dwelling unit

All leases, whether written or oral, give the tenant “exclusive possession” of the dwelling unit. This means that only the tenant, or members of the tenant’s household, or people the tenant allows in the house or apartment, have the right to be there. The landlord does not have the right to come into the house or apartment whenever he or she wants. In a written lease, the landlord’s duty to not enter the tenant’s house or apartment is called the covenant of quiet enjoyment. This covenant (promise) means that the tenant has control over who can or cannot come into his or her apartment or house. Cite: Ashley Court Enterprises v. Whittaker, 249 N.J. Super. 552 (App. Div. 1991).

When can a landlord enter?

The law allows the landlord or the landlord’s workers to go into the tenant’s dwelling only in a few special situations:

  • If the tenant invites or asks the landlord or one of the landlord’s workers to come in.

  • If the landlord needs to inspect the apartment, but only:
    • at reasonable periods of time—every day is unreasonable, every few months might be okay;
    • at a reasonable time of day—4 a.m. is unreasonable, 4 p.m. might be okay, depending on whether the tenant will be home at that time; and
    • after giving the tenant reasonable notice that he or she is coming to inspect. Reasonable notice usually means a written notice. It also usually means that the notice must be given at least one day before the landlord wants to come in. For buildings containing three apartments or more, there is a regulation requiring one day’s notice before a landlord can come into an apartment to make an inspection or do repairs. Cite: N.J.A.C. 5:10-5.1(c).

  • If the landlord or one of the landlord’s workers needs to go into the apartment to do maintenance or make repairs. If the repairs are not an emergency, they can only enter the house or apartment at a reasonable time and after giving reasonable notice.

  • If the landlord or the landlord’s workers need to go into the house or apartment to do emergency repairs. Under this circumstance, the landlord may not have to give one day’s notice—or even any notice—if the emergency is really serious or dangerous, for example, the apartment is on fire or water is rushing out of a broken pipe and pouring through the floor. But even in the case of an emergency, the landlord should try to give some notice if he or she can, even if the notice is just a phone call.

What if the landlord won’t stay out?

If the landlord or one of the landlord’s workers enters your house or apartment and does not have your permission or does not have one of the other reasons discussed above, he or she is breaking the law. You should send a letter by certified mail to the landlord complaining about what happened. Keep a copy for your records. You can also call the police or go to the police station or local court and file a complaint for “trespass” or “harassment” against the person who entered without your permission. You might be able to file a trespass or harassment complaint because, even though your landlord owns the building, he or she has given you the right to possess the apartment.

Maintaining order

A lease requires the landlord to make sure that each tenant respects the rights of other tenants. If one tenant is disturbing the other tenants by playing loud music at night or destroying the property, it is the landlord’s responsibility to make that tenant stop. Cite: Gottdiener v. Mailhot, 179 N.J. Super. 286 (App. Div. 1981). But in order for the landlord to be held responsible for any damages suffered by the tenants, one of the tenants must tell the landlord about the situation. Cite: Williams v. Gorman, 214 N.J. Super. 517 (App. Div. 1986), cert. denied, 107 N.J. 111 (1987).

Renewal of the lease

Many written leases will have a section explaining how you can get a new lease when your current lease ends. The lease may, for instance, state that unless the lease is ended by either the landlord or the tenant, it will automatically be renewed for another year. But a yearly lease that is not renewed automatically becomes a month-to-month lease when the year in the lease ends. Cite: N.J.S.A. 46:8-10.

A month-to-month lease will renew itself automatically for another month unless the tenant or the landlord acts to end the lease. This rule applies even if the lease agreement is oral and not in writing. Cite: N.J.S.A. 46:8-10.

Changes in the lease

When your lease ends, the landlord can offer you a new lease with changes in the terms and conditions of the lease. To do this, the landlord must give you a written notice ending your existing lease and offering to enter into a new lease with you if you accept the changes. The landlord’s notice must clearly spell out the changes.

A tenant’s refusal at the end of a lease to accept reasonable changes in the terms and conditions of the lease can result in eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act. To be “reasonable,” the changes must take into account the circumstances and interests of both the landlord and the tenant. This means that your landlord cannot make lease changes that he or she knows will cause you unnecessary hardship, unless he or she has very strong reasons for doing so. If your landlord sends you a written notice containing lease changes that you think are unreasonable, send a letter to the landlord describing the unreasonable lease changes. Your letter should also say that you will not accept the new lease unless the landlord offers to make changes that are reasonable. Cite: 447 Associates v. Miranda, 115 N.J. 522 (1989).

For example, at the end of your lease, your landlord wants to change the lease by putting in late charges if your rent is paid after the fifth day of the month. The landlord knows that you do not get paid or receive your assistance check until the third or fourth day of the month, and that it will be very hard for you to get the rent money to him by the fifth. You refuse to sign the new lease, and the landlord takes you to court to try to evict you. In court, the judge should decide that the lease change is not reasonable because the landlord knows that you cannot pay the rent by the fifth of the month and should have picked a later date.

9/28/2017