By ANDREW J. LUCA
As the summer’s seasonal rental population begins winding down along the coast, the eyes of local landlords and tenants turn to longer lease terms and the benefits that come with living at the Jersey Shore during the “off-season” months between September and May.
Recent changes to the law and court procedures in New Jersey, because of the pandemic, will affect how both landlords as well as existing/potential tenants protect themselves and the roof over their heads.
Back in March 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy issued Executive Order 106 creating a moratorium on residential evictions absent significant and rare situations. Recently, the governor rescinded that eviction moratorium with Executive Order 249.
Despite lifting the moratorium, tenants remain protected from evictions for nonpayment of rent which were due between March 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021, or Dec. 31, 2021, dependent upon household income.
Although the rent accrued during this time remains owed, and your landlord can still sue you for those overdue funds and receive a monetary judgment, you cannot be evicted for this past due rent if you meet eligibility requirements and complete the state’s Income Self-Certification Form.
The link below walks a renter through the process of completing this form. (https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/renter).
Be aware, if you enter into a new residential lease on or after Sept. 1 for a lease period longer than a seasonal lease (125 days) you are not immune from the state’s new law and its requirements.
For those renters impacted by COVID-19, financial and informational assistance remains available from numerous outreach programs, including: (https://njdca.onlinepha.com/), (https://nj.gov/dca/divisions/dhcr/covid19housingassistance.html) and Emergency Rental Assistance Program | U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The new law recognizes the hardships placed upon landlords, especially those landlords with a limited number of rental income properties.
Accordingly, as of Sept. 1, 2021, landlords are once again able to begin filing eviction proceedings (complaints).
Some, but not all, Landlord Tenant Court proceedings will now be held remotely. If a party lacks remote capabilities, a technology room at your local courthouse can be used upon request.
There are several new procedural requirements for landlords to follow, including filing a “LCIS,” or Landlord Case Information Statement, which is mandatory for landlords to file five days prior to the court-scheduled Settlement Conference.
The Settlement Conference, which may be before a judge or court appointed Legal Consultant, is mandatory for both parties to participate. Prior to the Settlement Conference, landlords must certify in their filings that they have complied with the CARES ACT. (https://www.njcourts.gov/notices/2020/n200724a.pdf?c=DfF).
For those landlords who have matters or actions currently pending before the courts that were “stayed” as a result of the pandemic and the state’s eviction moratorium (now lifted), the courts are presently taking into consideration renters’ applications to COVID-related assistance programs before ruling on an Eviction complaint. (https://www.njcourts.gov/notices/2021/n210805a.pdf?c=U44).
Assistance programs from various state agencies exist to provide financial and informational aid to landlords as well.
One such link providing a broad array of information assistance and direction can be found at (https://njdca.onlinepha.com/en-US/Pages/View/147/landlord-questions).
Additionally, the below link to a New Jersey court’s website page is a portal to numerous state and county based Rental Assistance programs: (https://www.njcourts.gov/selfhelp/covid19_rentalassistance.html)
Clicking this link takes you to the changes in landlord-tenant procedures which the New Jersey Supreme Court sets forth in greater detail: (https://www.njcourts.gov/notices/2021/n210715b.pdf?c=kkQ).
This article can be used as a starting point for landlords and tenants. It is for informational purposes only. Laws and court procedures in New Jersey change over time and did so well before COVID-19 became part of our vernacular.
It is reasonable to consider that this recent law and/or the procedural changes it produces may also change or evolve as we move forward and put COVID-19 behind us.
About the author: Andrew J. Luca, Esquire, is a co-founding member of the CKL Law Group, LLP and has been practicing Real Estate and Consumer Fraud law in New Jersey for nearly 20 years.