(Please note: The information below is not intended to provide or take the place of legal advice. For legal advice about your rights, you should contact a lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, you may contact the Middlesex County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (732) 828-0053. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may contact the Middlesex County Legal Services Corporation at (732) 249-7600 to see if you are eligible for free legal services.)
TYPICAL LANDLORD AND TENANT COMPLAINTS
Following is a general list of some of the reasons a landlord may file a complaint in the Landlord/Tenant Section:
- Failure to pay rent.
- Continued disorderly conduct.
- Willful destruction or damage to property.
- Habitual lateness in paying rent.
- Violation of rules and regulations, after written notice to comply, as outlined in a lease or other document.
- Tenant's conviction for a drug offense.
Before filing some complaints, a landlord must give a tenant written notice to stop particular conduct. Only when a tenant continues that conduct after notice to stop can a landlord try to have the tenant evicted. Also, complaints for other than non-payment of rent generally require notice terminating the tenancy. You may wish to contact an attorney for more information.
A landlord or a tenant that is a corporation must be represented by a New Jersey attorney in all matters filed in the Landlord/Tenant Section. No landlord or tenant may send a representative other than a lawyer to court.
A landlord cannot file a complaint in the Landlord/Tenant Section to collect the unpaid rent after receiving a judgment for possession. (This is explained in the "Day of Trial" section below.) Claims to collect back rent must be filed in the regular Special Civil Part or the Small Claims Section.
A tenant may file a complaint for the return of a security deposit.
WHERE TO FILE A COMPLAINT
A complaint must be filed with the Office of the Special Civil Part Clerk in the county where the rental premises are located.
FILING A COMPLAINT
A Landlord/Tenant complaint form is available from the Office of the Clerk of the Special Civil Part in the county in which the rental premises are located. The complaint can be sent to the court through the mail or delivered in person. When filing a complaint, you must:
- Give your full name, address and telephone number.
- To ensure proper service of the complaint, give the correct name(s) and address(es) of the person(s) named in the complaint as defendant(s). It is important that the defendant be properly identified as an individual, a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation.
- Give all information for the type of complaint you're filing, as indicated on the form.
- Signed the completed form.
- Pay the correct filing and service fees when filing the complaint with the Office of the Clerk of the Special Civil Part.
The cost for filing a complaint in the Landlord/Tenant Section is:
- $20.00 for one defendant.
- $2.00 for each additional defendant.
In addition, you must pay a mileage fee for delivery of the complaint by a Court Officer. Staff of the Special Civil Part can inform you of the mileage fee.
PREPARATION FOR TRIAL
If you are the landlord, you must come to court and prove that the statements made in the complaint are true. Arrange to have in court any witnesses you need to prove your case. A written statement, even if made under oath, cannot be used in court. Only actual, in-court testimony of the witnesses will be allowed.
Prepare your questions in advance.
Bring to court records of any transactions that my help you prove your case. Such records may include:
- Leases, estimates, bills, rent receipt records.
- Dishonored checks.
- Letters, photographs.
- Other documents proving your claim.
If you are able to settle your case with the tenant before the trial date, call the Office of the Clerk of the Special Civil Part immediately.
If you are the tenant, you don't have to file a written answer, but you must come to court and prove that the statements made by the landlord in the complaint are not true. Arrange to have in court any witnesses you need to prove you case. A written statement, even if made under oath, cannot be used in court. Only actual, in-court testimony of the witnesses will be allowed. Prepare your questions in advance.
Bring to court all applicable records. Such records may include:
- Rent receipts, cancelled checks.
- Letters and notices to or from the landlord.
- Other documents proving your case.
If you have not paid rent because the landlord did not make necessary repairs, you have to prove to the court how serious the problems are and how they are affecting your use of the rented premises. If you have not paid your rent, you should bring the amount the landlord claims you owe to court. Only cash, a certified check, or a money order made out to the Court Clerk is acceptable.
If you are able to settle your case with the landlord before the trial date, call the Office of the Clerk of the Special Civil Part immediately to confirm that the case was marked settled.
THE DAY OF THE TRIAL
Both the landlord and the tenant must come to court at the time and date stated on the complaint unless otherwise notified by the court. Bring all evidence and witnesses needed to present your case. Both the landlord and tenant will be able to present their cases.
If the court decides in favor of the tenant, the case will be dismissed. If the court decides in favor of the landlord, a "judgment for possession" will be granted. A judgement for possession allows the landlord, within time limits, to have the tenant removed from the premises by a Court Officer.
If the landlord's complaint is for non-payment of rent and the tenant offers to pay all the rent due plus court costs before or on the day of the court hearing, the landlord must accept the rent and the case will be dismissed. If the landlord doesn't accept the money, it may be deposited with the Clerk of the Special Civil Part. The judgment then will be voided, and the tenant does not have to move out of the premises.
JUDGMENT FOR POSSESSION
If a landlord is granted a judgment for possession, the landlord may apply to the Clerk of the Special Civil Part for a warrant for possession, which allows the landlord to force the tenant to move out of the premises. The fee for a warrant for possession is $15.00 plus double the amount of the mileage fee. The warrant for possession may be issued until three (3) business days (not counting the court day) after the judgment for possession is granted. The warrant for possession will be issued to a Court Officer to serve upon the tenant.
The Court Officer must give a residential tenant three (3) business days to move all persons and belongings from the premises. If the tenant does not move after three (3) business days from the date on which the warrant for possession was served, the landlord may arrange with the Court Officer to have the tenant evicted or locked out. The Court Officer will tell the landlord the fee charged for an eviction.
Following the eviction, the landlord must let the tenant remove personal belongings from the premises. A landlord cannot keep a tenant's belongings, but can arrange for their storage.
A landlord must apply for a warrant for possession within 30 days from the date of the judgment for possession unless the judgment is stopped through a court order or other written agreement signed by the landlord and the tenant.
A tenant may ask the court for permission to stay in the premises due to special difficulties that moving out may cause. If permission is granted, the tenant may not stay in the premises for more than six months. All rent due ordinarily must be paid for permission to be granted by the court.
RESIDENTIAL SECURITY DEPOSITS
A security deposit cannot be more than 1 and 1/2 times one month's rent. The deposit is held by the landlord to pay for the repair of any damage to the leased premises that is more than the cost of normal maintenance and repair, or for unpaid rent when the tenancy is over.
The security deposit generally must be deposited in an interest-bearing account in a bank or savings and loan association in New Jersey at the time the lease is signed. The tenant must be given written notice of where the money has been deposited within 30 days of receipt by the landlord.
If the landlord doesn't return the security deposit within 30 days from the date the tenant moves out of the premises, the tenant may sue to recover double the amount due, plus court costs. If the amount sought is $2,000 or less, the tenant may sue in the Small Claims Section. If the amount sought does not exceed $10,000, the tenant may sue in the Special Civil Part. If the amount sought exceeds $10,000, the tenant must sue in the Law Division.
The landlord must notify the tenant of the amount of the security deposit being retained and the nature and cost of the repairs.
If the amount of any damage caused by a tenant plus any unpaid rent is more than the security deposit, the landlord may sue for the additional money.
If a residential building is sold, the seller must turn over each security deposit plus any interest to the buyer and notify each tenant by registered or certified mail
(This information is provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Civil Practice Division.)
Most disputes between landlords and tenants are resolved by the Landlord/Tenant Section of the New Jersey Superior Court, Special Civil Part. The Landlord/Tenant Section is one of three sections of the Special Civil Part. The other two are Small Claims and regular Special Civil Part.