There are two types of tenancies in New Jersey: those protected by the Anti-Eviction Act and those that are not.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53: Tenancies that are not covered by the Act are all commercial tenancies, seasonal tenancies (125 consecutive days or less and permanent place of residence elsewhere), and residential tenancies in owner-occupied 2- or 3-family properties. If the lease is month-to-month, these tenancies may be terminated by the landlord or tenant on one month's notice for any reason or no reason.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1: The vast majority of tenancies in New Jersey are protected by the Anti-Eviction Act; that is, properties with four or more rental units, single-family homes, condominiums, and of course, non-owner-occupied 2- and 3-family properties. Tenants in these properties may be evicted only for one of the enumerated statutory grounds.
Non-payment of rent is the most common type of eviction and the only ground which does not require serving a notice on the tenant before going to court. This makes it the fastest and easiest way to evict tenants. Tenants may also be evicted for failure to pay additional rent if the lease so provides. Additional rent could include late fees, attorney's fees, bounced check fees, court costs, and other charges. However, tenants have the right to redeem under N.J.S.A. 2A:42-10.16(a) by paying the outstanding rent balance until three days after the lockout.
There is a common misconception that rent is due on the fifth day of the month. However, under N.J.S.A. 2A:42-6.1, a statutory five-day grace period applies only to tenants who are senior citizens receiving "Social Security Old Age Pensions, Railroad Retirement Pensions or other governmental pensions in lieu of Social Security Old Age Pensions, and by recipients of Social Security Disability Benefits, Supplemental Security Income or benefits under Work First New Jersey." All other tenants have a grace period only if the lease provides for one.
Habitual non-payment or late payment of rent is a related ground for eviction. It applies when a tenant habitually fails to pay the rent, or habitually pays the rent late. It requires at least three notices before going to court.
Probably the second most common eviction in New Jersey is based on lease violations. For this reason, the lease is immensely beneficial to the landlord because it essentially expands the grounds for eviction under the Anti-Eviction Act. Typical examples include pets, occupants not listed on the lease, unauthorized use of common areas, and washing machines. The violation must be substantial, and the lease must contain a right of re-entry. Two notices are required before filing for eviction.
Tenants may also be evicted for disorderliness, which must be so as to destroy the peace and quiet of the neighbors; willfully or grossly negligently causing or allowing damage, destruction, or injury to the property; drug offenses; theft from the landlord; assault or terroristic threats against the landlord, or the landlord's family or employee.
There are some other miscellaneous grounds for eviction that involve changing the use of the property, such as condominium conversion and permanently retiring a property from residential use.
All of these grounds require serving the tenant with at least one written notice before going to court
Illegal apartments are very common in New Jersey, particularly in urban areas. They may take the form of a basement, attic, garage, or even a legal apartment divided into smaller ones. Contrary to popular belief, there is no state law prohibiting illegal apartments; rather, the Anti-Eviction Act provides an independent ground to evict a tenant living in an illegal apartment. The Act requires that the landlord have been cited by a local or State housing inspector for a violation of an ordinance, such as local zoning laws, or the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code or New Jersey Uniform Building Code, and it is unfeasible to correct the illegal occupancy without removing the tenant. The tenant's or landlord's knowledge of the illegality of the apartment is immaterial. This ground requires three months' notice to quit, and payment to the tenant of six months' rent relocation assistance.
However, it is rare to see an eviction based on this ground. The vast majority of tenants in illegal apartments are brought to court for non-payment of rent. Typically, when the inspector goes to the property, he or she will notify the tenant that the apartment is illegal, and sometimes even advise the tenant to stop paying the rent. The landlord will then file an eviction based on non-payment of rent, and the tenant will raise as a defense in court the illegality of the apartment. Unless the landlord has documentation to prove that the apartment was legalized at some point, he or she will typically settle the case with the tenant, and pay the tenant the relocation assistance in exchange for the tenant vacating. If the parties do not settle, it is not uncommon for the court to enter a judgment of possession based on the outstanding rent, but require the landlord to pay six months' rent relocation assistance to the tenant before the eviction.
There is no state law regulating the amount rents can be increased. However, under the New Jersey Anti-Eviction Act, rent increases may not be unconscionable. That is a somewhat subjective judicial determination, but factors include the percentage of increase, hardship on landlord, and market value. See Fromet Properties, Inc. v. Buel, 294 N.J. Super. 601 (1996).
If the property is not subject to the Act, the landlord's right to an increase may be limited if the municipality has a rent control or rent stabilization ordinance. If it does, then the ordinance will dictate the amount of the increase. Rent control ordinances vary greatly by municipality, in terms of their application and the extent to which they regulate rents. Rent control is a local issue; there is no statewide rent control law. Each municipality has its own ordinance, and some do not have any.
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act applies to landlord-tenant relationships, See 49 Prospect Street Tenants Association v. Sheva Garden, Inc., 227 N.J. Super. 449 (App. Div. 1988), and more specifically, in the context of rent control. In Wozniak v. Pennella, 373 N.J. Super. 445 (App. Div. 2004), certif. denied, 183 N.J. 212 (2005), the court held that a landlord's overcharging rent to a tenant in violation of a rent control ordinance was an affirmative act for purposes of liability under the Consumer Fraud Act. In that case and subsequent cases, courts have calculated damages recoverable by tenants under the CFA to be three times the amount of the rent charged over the rent allowed, attorney's fees, and costs.
Like the Anti-Eviction Act, the New Jersey Security Deposit Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8-19 et seq., does not apply to seasonal tenancies (125 or fewer consecutive days, and tenant has a permanent place of residence elsewhere), or owner-occupied 2- or 3-family properties. However, the tenant may invoke the protection of the statute by giving written notice to the landlord.
A landlord subject to the statute may not charge a security deposit of more than 1.5 month's rent. The landlord must deposit the security money in an interest-bearing account in a state or federally chartered bank, savings bank, or savings and loan association that is located in New Jersey and insured by the federal government. Within thirty days of receiving the security deposit from the tenant, transferring it from one account to another, or selling the property, the tenant must be notified in writing of the name and address of the bank or financial institution, type of account, and interest rate. Also, the landlord must pay the annual interest accrued on the security money to the tenant, or credit it to the payment of rent. If the landlord fails to do any of the above, the tenant may apply the security deposit, plus 7% annual interest, as rent by notifying the landlord in writing of his or her intent to do so.