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LEGAL TOPICS
2020 Changes to Housing Law Increase Protections for Tenants
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Coronavirus Update

New Jersey has implemented a number of measures to prevent evictions during the pandemic. Please visit our coronavirus​ section for the most current information about court calendars and tenant protections.

 

Both the Truth in Renting Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8-43, et seq., and the Fair Eviction Notice Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.15, et seq., were amended in 2020. These amendments were aimed at assisting tenants who are facing eviction due to nonpayment of rent.

The Truth in Renting Act applies to landlords who offer leases for at least a month or more. It does not apply to:

  • dwelling units in rental premises containing not more than two such units,
  • owner-occupied premises of not more than three dwelling units, or
  • hotels, motels or other guest houses serving transient or seasonal guests.

Under the recent changes, a landlord cannot force a tenant to pay rent through an electronic funds transfer. Also, landlords must provide receipts for rental payments made in cash. The receipts must state the amount paid, what the payment is for, when it was received, who received it, and the typed or printed name of the landlord and tenant. In addition, the amendments may affect a landlord’s ability to evict over attorney’s fees and other costs if the tenant lives in a rent-controlled unit, even if the lease allows for such charges. Under the amendment, the court must take into consideration all factors associated with each case and may limit such fees. The ability to evict over such fees may also be limited by other laws, including New Jersey case law.

The Fair Eviction Notice Act was changed to give tenants more time to pay rent and get an eviction case for nonpayment of rent dismissed. In the past, if a landlord refused a payment plan, the court required the tenant to have all of the rent money legally due and owing on the initial court date to get the case dismissed. Now, the tenant can pay the balance due:

  • within three business days after a warrant for removal is posted to the door, or
  • within three business days after a lockout.

The landlord cannot add a late fee to the amount due listed on the application for the warrant of removal. After the tenant pays the balance, the landlord must provide receipts and notify the court within two business days so that the case can be dismissed. If that does not happen, the tenant may file a motion to dismiss the case. 

Further changes to the Truth in Renting Act will also help tenants at the warrant of removal stage. The landlord must accept rent by “cash, certified check, or money order, or through any federal, state, or local rental assistance program or bona fide charitable organization on behalf of the tenant” within a three-business-day period of eviction. The landlord has to cooperate with any such agency that has promised to pay the rent. If the landlord doesn’t cooperate, and the tenant has a warrant for removal, or is within three business days after being locked out, the tenant can file an order to show cause with the court. The order to show cause will force a resolution of the case in court. 

Even if the Truth in Renting Act does not apply, the landlord may have to accept payment from an agency under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. That law applies to all rental properties except for two-family dwellings where the owner lives in one unit, and owner-occupied single-family homes where the owner is renting out rooms. Under the Law Against Discrimination, a landlord cannot discriminate against a lawful source of rent, like money from an agency. Therefore, the tenant could still argue that the landlord has to cooperate with any agency promising to pay rent.

Tenants may have other options after receiving a warrant for removal, such as a stay for orderly removal, hardship stay, or order to show cause to vacate the judgment. It is best for tenants to seek legal advice as early as possible when faced with eviction.

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4/8/2020
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