Since the COVID-19 Pandemic started, we have been receiving calls from landlords and tenants asking about their respective rights.
On March 19, 2020, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order No. 106, which contains an “Eviction Moratorium” staying the enforcement of all judgments for possession, warrants of removal, and writs of possession, unless the court determines on its own motion or motion of the parties that enforcement is necessary for the “interest of justice.” Courts have been clear that non-payment of rent does not satisfy the “interest of justice” standard (except in the case of death of a tenant). Rather, this very limited exception is reserved for emergency situations such as threats against the landlord, issues concerning health or safety, drug offenses, or theft. The upshot of the Moratorium is that cases can be filed in the Landlord/Tenant part, but no trial, lockouts, or removals will be taking place absent exceptional circumstances.
Tens of thousands of eviction cases have been filed since the start of the Pandemic. With no ability to try the cases, the courts’ backlog is continuing to grow. In order to try to reduce the backlog while the Moratorium is in effect, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered the county courts to schedule intake and pre-trial settlement conferences between landlords and tenants to see if they can resolve certain cases. While this is a noble effort by the courts, the truth remains that the courts cannot force parties to participate in these conferences and the courts cannot conduct lockouts even if a party violates an agreed-upon order.
How Long Will The Eviction Moratorium Last in NJ?
So when will this end? Executive Order No. 106 provides that the Moratorium remains in effect until two months after the Governor declares the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This has been extended numerous times, most recently in Executive Order No. 222 issued on February 17, 2021 which provides that the crisis is continuing and does not set a specific date. It is now safe to assume that the Moratorium will last well into 2021.
In Executive Order No. 128, Governor Murphy announced that tenants can use their security deposit plus accumulated interest to be applied or credited towards rent payments during the Pandemic or up to 60 days after. Tenants just need to notify their landlords in writing (email or text even) that they wish to exercise this right. Tenants are not obligated to replenish the security deposit unless there is a lease extension or renewal. Landlords may still request reimbursement for property damage after the lease expires in accordance with Security Deposit Act, but the affected landlord is no longer the keeper of the deposit and will need to take action to pursue it.
Landlords are obviously panicked and with good reason – – their tenants can stop paying rent and landlords currently have no means to evict them. However, tenants should be aware that the Moratorium does not just allow them to stop paying rent without consequence – – they will still be responsible for back rent owed and subject to eviction when the Moratorium is lifted. Landlords can also file civil actions for the collection of back rent. Somewhere down the line, we are likely to see a large number of evictions and collection actions arising out of this period and we are seriously concerned about the rise in homelessness and bankruptcies.
Contact a New Brunswick NJ Landlord Tenant Attorney Today
If you have a landlord/tenant-related question in New Brunswick, Middlesex County or the surrounding areas, contact Craig Rothenberg for a consultation. Craig Rothenberg is an experienced landlord-tenant attorney who will fight to make sure you are complying with the pertinent laws and/or that your rights have not been violated.