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Housing
Pandemic Eviction Moratorium and Eviction Protections Changed Under New State Law

 

On August 4, 2021, a new law went into effect that changes the eviction moratorium AND changes evictions for most tenants who owe rent during the pandemic.

The Law’s Effect on the Eviction Moratorium

In March 2020, Governor Murphy put a moratorium on evictions. Even if a landlord had a court judgment to evict a tenant, or grounds to get judgment for possession (which directs physical removal of the tenant), no tenant could be evicted as long as the moratorium was in effect, unless there was an emergency and an eviction was allowed by a judge “in the interest of justice.”

The new law changes the moratorium. For most nonpayment cases, the eviction moratorium is still in effect. For some, the moratorium has ended and evictions can proceed. Even in cases where the moratorium no longer applies, a property owner must still go through the court process to remove a tenant.

Even without a moratorium, a landlord cannot simply lock out a tenant. They must file an eviction complaint with the court and obtain a judgment of possession. Only a court officer can lock out a tenant. Tenants must be given a court-issued Warrant of Removal at least three days before the lockout.

If a judgment for possession is entered against you (meaning you lost an eviction case or agreed by consent order to a judgment), your landlord can file for a Warrant of Removal. If the case was about something other than rent, since the moratorium has expired, the court can now issue a Warrant of Removal and you may be locked out in as little as three days after you receive it. You may have other temporary protections so it is important to seek legal advice if you receive a Warrant of Removal.

The New Jersey eviction moratorium

  • protects all tenants with incomes up to 120% of the “area median income” from lockout due to rent, until August 31, 2021.
  • continues until December 31 for most tenants who owe rent and who are low to moderate income, with income up to 80% of the “area median income.” But, to make sure the protections apply, tenants must certify that:
    1. their income falls below the threshold for the moratorium;
    2. the unpaid rent is due to circumstances arising from the COVID-19 crisis; and
    3. they have applied for rental assistance.

A new federal moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may protect additional people from lockout until October 3, 2021. If you are facing a lockout and don’t fall into the New Jersey moratorium, seek legal advice as soon as possible.

QUESTION: I already had a judgment entered against me, but the eviction was delayed due to the moratorium. Can I be locked out now?

It depends. If the case came about for reasons other than rent (also called a “holdover” case) then the landlord (or their attorney) can file for a Warrant of Removal right away. It is possible that a lockout could be scheduled before August 31 in these circumstances. You will still receive a Warrant for Removal three days before the lockout. If you have a very good reason why the judgment should be reconsidered, you can file an Order to Show Cause to ask the court to review the case. You may also ask for extra time to move, but you will need a very good reason. You may have other temporary protections if the COVID-19 crisis continues. Get legal advice right away if you receive a Warrant of Removal.

If the case was about rent (nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to pay a rent increase) your landlord can file for a Warrant of Removal to have you locked out after August 31, 2021. In SOME rent cases, you can delay the eviction and continue the moratorium—if the only rent due is from the period during the pandemic. You must certify that the rent is during this period and you must meet other requirements discussed below. If you already have a judgment against you, or if you entered into a settlement agreement or consent order, seek legal advice to find out if the moratorium extension applies to you and if you have a basis to set aside the judgment entirely.

You MAY still be able to ask the court to reconsider the case and vacate (set aside) the judgment if you have a good reason and a defense. You may have a defense to the eviction based on the new law, if the rent currently due accumulated during the pandemic (see below.) If all the rent due and owing is paid within two days of the lockout, also ask the court to withdraw the judgment and dismiss the case.

New Eviction Protections Beyond the Moratorium

The moratorium is only a temporary delay on lockouts. The new law also gives protections against eviction even after the moratorium ends. If your landlord has filed an eviction case based on nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to pay a rent increase, the law gives tenants new defenses. Under the new law, a tenant can never be evicted for rent due during the “covered pandemic period” if they meet basic requirements. The requirements are different depending on which months of rent are due.

Rent due March 2020 through August 2021. The eviction case should be dismissed if a tenant certifies the rent due is for months between March 2020 through the end of August 2021 AND the tenant’s income is at or below 120% of the area median income (visit NJ Eviction Prevention Self-Certification to calculate income for your area).

Rent due September 2021 through December 2021. You must meet additional requirements. To have your case dismissed, you must certify that:

 

  1. Your income is below 80% of the area median income (visit NJ Eviction Prevention Self-Certification to calculate income for your area).
  2. The rent due is from the pandemic period from September 2021 – December 2021, (You will include if any other rent due is from March 2020- August 2021.)
  3. The household was unable to pay rent due to circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  4. The household has applied for state, county, or local rental assistance programs for which they appear eligible.

 

Completing the certification

To certify, you must complete and submit an online form, found at NJ Eviction Prevention Self-Certification. If you can’t complete the form online, call the DCA assistance line 609-490-4550 for help over the phone. Or call Legal Services of New Jersey or your local Legal Services program for help completing the form, 888-LSNJ-LAW (888-576-5529).

If there is an eviction case pending against you, you will need the “docket number” (beginning with LT-) so the form can be submitted automatically to the landlord tenant court.

If you do not have the docket number, but you know that your landlord has filed an eviction case, contact the court and get the docket number. You will be notified when you finish the form if it has been sent to the court.

If an eviction case has not been filed with the court, but you expect it to happen, you can still complete the form. Keep one copy and send one to your landlord. The Department of Community Affairs will send a copy to the Special Civil Part Landlord Tenant Court if they receive notification that a case has been filed.

It is important to keep a record of the certification form. You will be able to print it, or save a copy to your phone, tablet, or computer. If you have email, the form will be emailed to you, along with a confirmation number. If you want the form emailed to a family member, friend, or community agency, give that email address when you complete the form.

You will also be notified when the form is submitted to the court. Keep the confirmation number in a safe place in case you need to show that you completed it. If you are able to print the form, keep a copy for yourself, give one to your landlord, and keep a copy to give to the court if your landlord files to evict you. If you can’t print the form, you can call the DCA telephone assistance line and ask that they print and mail two copies of the form to you. You may also go to a Legal Services office or other community agency for help printing the form.

If a judgment for possession has already been entered against you, or if you signed an agreement that states you can be evicted, the certification form may not be enough to stop the eviction. If you meet the requirements in the certification, you may be able to file an Order to Show Cause, asking a judge to vacate (or remove) the eviction judgment, based on the new law. Because this is a new law, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. There is no guarantee the eviction will be stopped if the judgment was entered against you before August 4, 2021.

If your landlord has filed to evict you for nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or a rent increase, and the eviction includes rent from before March 1, 2020, you MAY have protections from eviction under the new law if you have paid the rent for any months before March 1, 2020. If your landlord is seeking rent for months before March 1, 2020, get legal advice. In some cases, you may still have defenses against an eviction.

 

Rent Assistance is Available

The Department of Community Affairs and other local agencies have rental assistance. (See Are there any rental assistance programs created or expanded in response to the pandemic?)

Get Help!

Tenants can get free legal advice about an eviction or rental assistance from Legal Services in their county or from Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide hotline and online resources. The LSNJLAWSM Hotline assists tenants regardless of immigration status. Call 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529), apply online at lsnjlawhotline.org, or contact your local Legal Services program directly:

Find your county Legal Services program here: www.lsnj.org/getlegalhelp

 

Legal Services of Northwest Jersey  
Hunterdon County Office: (908) 782-7979  
Morris County Office: (973) 285-6911 
Somerset County Office: (908) 231-0840 
Sussex County Office: (973) 383-7400
Warren County Office: (908) 475-2010  

  Northeast New Jersey Legal Services
Bergen County Office: (201) 487-2166
Hudson County Office: (201) 792-6363
Passaic County Office: (973) 523-2900

Essex-Newark Legal Services: (973) 624-4500

Central Jersey Legal Services
Mercer County Office: (609) 695-6249
Middlesex County Office: (732) 249-7600
Union County Office: (908) 354-4340

  South Jersey Legal Services: 1-800-496-4570
(Service Area: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean, Monmouth, and Salem Counties)

 

These services are provided at no charge, but applicants must be financially eligible to qualify.

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8/6/2021