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Housing
Changes to New Jersey’s Eviction Process

The eviction process in New Jersey is about to change. Eviction trials will begin again, starting in early September 2021. There are also new steps to take before a trial date. This article describes important new steps tenants must take before their trial date to protect their rights.


What Has NOT Changed?

New Jersey’s Anti-Eviction Act

Although the court process is changing, New Jersey’s eviction law is staying the same. For example:

  • It is illegal for a landlord to use “self-help” to evict a tenant, meaning that a tenant can only be evicted by a court officer by order of a court;
  • Most tenants are protected by New Jersey’s “Anti-Eviction Act.” As a “protected tenant”, you cannot be evicted unless the landlord proves “good cause” to evict. There are some situations in which a tenant might not be protected. The most common exception is for tenants who live in the same building with the landlord when the building has three units or less;
  • “Good cause” for eviction is defined by law. It includes things like nonpayment of rent and violation of lease.
  • A landlord cannot evict a protected tenant just because the lease has ended. Tenants have the right to continue to live in an apartment even after a lease has expired.
  • The court must provide an interpreter for anyone who needs one for any court hearing. A non-English speaking tenant who receives a court notice must contact the court to request the interpreter.
  • The court must “reasonably accommodate” people who have disabilities that interfere with their ability to appear in court. A person with a disability who receives a court notice must contact the court to ask for a specific accommodation.

 

What HAS Changed?

Computer (Remote) Court Proceedings

One major change to the court process is that most hearings will NOT be held in the courthouse. Instead, they will be held remotely, over a computer. This can be difficult for people who do not have computers or internet service. The court’s eviction notice should have instructions for tenants who cannot appear remotely. You may be instructed to appear in person or to call in on a telephone. Each courthouse has a few computers that tenants and other people involved in court cases can use. There are not enough computers at the courthouse for everyone who needs to use one. Many Legal Services programs have computers available for court hearings. Contact your local Legal Services program or Legal Services of New Jersey if you need help with this.

Tenant Case Information Statement (TCIS)

Another major change is that tenants who are served with an eviction complaint must now respond in writing by filling out a form called a tenant case information statement. The TCIS form asks the tenant for basic information, such as name and address, but also asks the tenant to write out a “defense” to eviction—meaning the legal reason why the landlord cannot evict the tenant. Filling out this section of the form can be harder than it seems, especially because tenants may not know they have certain defenses. It is best to try to get help from an attorney who has experience handling eviction cases. If you cannot get help from an attorney and you aren’t sure what to write, you can say something like “the landlord does not have good cause to evict me. “

Case Management Conferences/Settlement Conferences

Before a landlord and tenant can have a trial in front of a judge, the parties will have a “case management conference” followed immediately by a “settlement conference.” The meetings take place remotely, using a computer or other device over the internet. It is important to ask for an interpreter or accommodation before these meetings. A court employee called a “landlord tenant specialist” will run the meeting. The landlord tenant specialist will ask questions to get information about the case, then try to help the parties settle the case. It is very important to talk with an experienced landlord tenant attorney before this meeting and to have an attorney attend the meeting with you to make sure you do not give up important rights that you may not be aware of.

Other Things to Consider Before a Settlement or Trial

Settlement is voluntary. You do not have to settle your case. If you do not settle, you will have a trial in front of a judge. You should consider going to trial if you have good reason to believe that the landlord cannot prove good cause to evict or if you have a valid, legal defense to eviction. Here are some things to consider before going to trial:

  • At a trial, a judge can only decide who is legally entitled to possess the apartment. The judge cannot order you or the landlord to compromise.
  • At a trial, it is the landlord’s burden to prove good cause to evict. If the landlord cannot prove facts supporting a legal “good cause” to evict, then the court must dismiss the eviction case.

Consider settling your case if you and the landlord agree on the facts and the law and can reach a fair compromise. You can come to a good settlement only if you know your rights. For example, let’s say you and the landlord agree that your rent is $1,200 per month and you owe three months’ rent. Before you settle the case, you need to know whether you have a defense against eviction. In this example, you may have a defense under a new law that protects tenants when they can certify that the rent became due during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is just one example of why it’s important to get legal advice and learn about your rights before you agree to a settlement. You might make a different decision about settlement if you have defenses. You may have other defenses to nonpayment of rent that became due before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this example, you should consider settling if you are sure that you can be evicted for nonpayment of rent (for example, if the rent became due before March, 2020) and if you and the landlord can negotiate a fair repayment plan that is realistic and affordable. Here are some things to consider before settling your case:

  • Settlements are voluntary.
  • Once you make an agreement, you are stuck with it. Courts enforce agreements reached by the parties and rarely set them aside.
  • You should not agree to a settlement that you cannot keep. For example, you should not agree to a payment plan that requires you to pay more money than you can afford.
  • You should not agree to move out unless you have a realistic plan and a place to go.
  • You should not agree to move out in less time than the judge would give you if you went to trial unless the landlord agrees to pay you or gives you some other benefit to do so.

It is always best to try to have an experienced lawyer represent you if you are facing eviction. To apply for free legal assistance, call 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529) or visit us at lsnjlawhotline.org.​​​​​​​​​

8/2/2021