10 Things to Know When Going to Landlord Tenant Court
Article written based on New Jersey Law. - Every day thousands of landlord tenant cases are listed on the court's dockets throughout the State. If you are a landlord or a tenant you may find yourself having to go to court to prosecute or defend a case.
Having some familiarity with the "system" and the process is helpful to you as well as to the Court1. When the Clerk or Judge calls the list of all matters scheduled, if the landlord is present in the courtroom and the tenant is not, the tenant will be "in default." In that case, a judgment granting the landlord possession of the leased property may be entered against the tenant after the landlord files a Certification proving a right to possession. Forms are available in the courthouse. If the tenant is present in the courtroom and the landlord is not, the landlord's complaint will be dismissed without prejudice, meaning it may be filed again without penalty.
2. In non-payment of rent cases, the tenant has the right to pay the full amount of rent (or deposit it with the clerk) by the close of the business day that the trial is set for and have the case dismissed.
3. A landlord may not evict a tenant based upon failure to pay any attorneys' fees, costs or late charges, unless there is a lease provision which states that such fees are collectible as rent. Even if the lease allows such charges to be collected, the amount due as rent may be limited by a rent control ordinance, or in the case of public or federally-assisted housing, by federal law.
4. A landlord and tenant may decide to settle a case before court, but the decision is entirely voluntary. Any settlement should be reduced to writing and filed with the court. This will protect both parties in the event of a breach by the other. Most Courts require that the terms of the agreement be "placed on the record," in open court. This is for the protection of both parties as well. A settlement agreement should be placed "on the record" as a matter of course if there are complex terms, or if the tenant is agreeing to vacate. There are specific Court Rules governing the requirement to have a settlement agreement reviewed by a Judge. Check with the clerk in the County where your case is to confirm the Court's requirements. It varies between counties.
What are the procedures if you cannot settle your case?5. If the tenant wishes to challenge the allegations or accuracy of anything stated in the complaint, including the amount of rent due and owing, the tenant has a right to a trial before a judge.
6. The entry of a judgment for possession means that a landlord may request the court clerk issue a Warrant for Removal to a Court Constable and the tenant can be evicted. SELF-HELP EVICTIONS ARE ILLEGAL. A Landlord must use the services of a Court Officer to effectuate a lockout.
7. If a judgment for possession is entered, a Warrant for Removal may not be issued until three days later. The Warrant for Removal authorizes a Special Civil Part Officer (Constable) to lock out the tenant three days after the Warrant has been served on the tenant. Service of the Warrant is generally accomplished by the Officer leaving a copy at the tenant's apartment. The lock out may not occur on a weekend or on a judicial holiday. Also, weekends and holidays are not counted in calculating the number of days before the Warrant can be signed or issued. This means that the tenant will be locked out at a minimum of eight days from the day judgment of possession is entered.
8. If a judgment for possession is entered after a trial, or because a tenant did not appear in court, or because the tenant agreed with the landlord to the entry of a judgment, a tenant has the right to apply to the court for "post judgment relief" including an Order for Orderly Removal giving the tenant up to 7 extra days to move, or a hardship stay of eviction (even up to 10 days AFTER the door has been locked!) The court may grant or deny the relief sought and the landlord has a right to be heard at the hearing.