New Jersey Landlord-Tenant 101: Eviction Issues -- Grounds

I’d like to jump back in to a series of blog posts touching on some of the residential “tenancy” questions that often come from New Jersey landlord clients.  We’ll probably revisit this "New Jersey Landlord-Tenant 101" series periodically moving forward but, for right now, I want to finish up with some issues/questions related to the following topics: “pre-tenancy” concerns; how should a tenant’s security deposit be handled; how and when can a tenant be evicted, and what should be done with a tenant’s property after eviction.

So far, we’ve covered some basic questions concerning “pre-tenancy” issues and how to handle a residential security deposit.  Now, I’d like to touch on some very basic residential eviction issues in a 2-parter.

EVICTION ISSUES – Grounds for Eviction

Q: The tenant did or did not do “X.” Can I evict him/her?

A: The short answer is: it depends.  Generally speaking, it depends on which eviction statute applies, whether proper and timely notice was provided to the tenant and whether the tenant has any viable defenses to eviction.  As to which eviction statute applies:

As a preliminary matter, please remember that “self-help” is never available when dealing with a residential eviction.  A complaint seeking eviction must always be filed with the Court, permission granted and all Court Rules followed before a residential tenant can be evicted.  In New Jersey, there are two statutes under which a landlord can file to evict a tenant and the permissible grounds for eviction differ under each.  To figure out which statute applies, we first have to determine where the owner of the property lives and the number of units available for rent.

Generally, the Summary Dispossess Act (“SDA”), N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53, et seq., applies to commercial tenancies, hotels/motels/guest houses renting to a transient guest or seasonal tenant and residential tenancies where the owner lives on the property and there are 2 or fewer units available for rent (think duplex or triplex with the owner living in a unit or an owner-occupied house with the garage lawfully converted to 1-2 rental units).

The Anti-Eviction Act (AEA), N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, et seq., applies to all other residential tenancies in New Jersey.  It covers single-family homes to 1000-unit apartment complexes and everything in between.  It is fair to say that the AEA covers over 90% of the residential tenancies in New Jersey.

Here is a summary of the permissible grounds for eviction under the Summary Dispossess Act:

  • When a tenant “holds over” in the rental unit after expiration of the lease term.  (It is important to note that in this case no “cause” is needed to justify the eviction.  If covered by the SDA, and subject to timely/adequate notice, the mere fact that the tenant remains in possession past the established end of the lease term is sufficient.  This is in direct contrast with the AEA, which expressly requires “good cause” for evicting a tenant.)
  • When a tenant remains in possession of the unit after failing to pay rent that is due and owing to the landlord.
  • When a tenant is so disorderly as to destroy the peace and quiet of the landlord, other tenants or the neighborhood. (Subject to timely/adequate notice.)
  • When a tenant willfully destroys, damages or injures the property. (Subject to timely/adequate notice. Willful destruction is tough case to make.)
  • When a tenant constantly violates the landlord’s rules and regulations; provided that the tenant accepted them in writing or they were made part of the lease.  (Subject to timely/adequate notice.)
  • When a tenant otherwise breaches the lease; provided that the landlord has reserved a “right of reentry” in the lease for the breach in question. (Subject to timely/adequate notice.

By contrast, the Anti-Eviction Act requires “good cause” for eviction and specifies 18 grounds for same.  In short, unless and until a tenant’s actions or circumstances fit within one or more of the specified grounds for eviction in the AEA, s/he cannot be evicted and has a virtual lifetime lease to the unit.  That is why it is so important to address problematic tenants head-on when the opportunity presents itseld.  Here is a quick summary of the permissible grounds for eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act without reference to the various “notice” requirements:

  • Tenant fails to pay rent due and owing.
  • Tenant is disorderly, destroying peace and quiet.
  • Tenant willfully or grossly negligent in destruction of the premises.
  • Tenant substantially breaches landlord’s rules/regulations.
  • Tenant substantially violates the lease agreement; provided that a “right of reentry” is reserved.
  • Tenant substantially violates a public housing lease provision prohibiting illegal use of drugs or other illegal activities.
  • Tenant fails to pay rent after reasonable increase.
  • Landlord must abate housing or health code violations.
  • Landlord seeking to permanently retire building or Mobile Home Park from residential housing market.
  • Tenant refuses to accept reasonable lease changes at end of term.
  • Tenant habitually makes late payment of rent.
  • Landlord seeking to convert property to condominium or cooperative.
  • Landlord of a building or Mobile Home Park -- constructed as or being converted to condominium, cooperative or fee simple ownership -- seeking to personally occupy unit or sell it to person who intends to personally occupy it.
  • Tenant’s occupancy of unit is conditioned upon employment by landlord and employment is terminated.
  • Tenant is convicted for drug use, possession, manufacture, etc.
  • Tenant is convicted for assault/threats against landlord, landlord’s family or employee.
  • Landlord can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the tenant is liable for theft, assault/threats or drug use, possession, etc. (No conviction required.)
  • Tenant convicted of theft from landlord, the premises or another tenant.

Remember: evictions can be very fact-driven situations – with a lot of “she said/she said” – so it is important to document the grounds for eviction when they occur and send the proper notices.  If you have a potential eviction situation, I’m always happy to kick it around.

The next post in this series will finish up with eviction issues.  We’ll tackle notices and potential defenses to eviction. 

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