Pre-pandemic, a New Jersey landlord would file an eviction complaint with the court and get a trial date within 30 days. However, the State suspended all eviction trials for a period of 18 months due to COVID-19.
Trials resumed January 1, 2022, subject to the backlog of all the cases that could not be tried prior to that date. Some of the procedures are the same, and others are new. Let’s review.
The action is commenced by the preparation and filing of the eviction complaint and the landlord case information statement. It is necessary for the landlord to review and sign the complaint before filing. The court then serves the tenant and then the waiting may begin, depending on which county has the case.
The next step is the case management conference, which is conducted via Zoom. It is necessary before the conference for the landlord to prepare and file a certification of lease and registration statement, which requires two attachments: (1) any written lease between the landlord and tenant, and (2) the file stamped landlord identity law form required to be filed in the municipality where the property is located, unless the property has a certificate of registration from the NJ Department of Community Affairs.
At the case management conference, which may also be attended by the tenant, the landlord/tenant specialist (who is a court employee) gathers information from the parties to complete a form which is then sent to the parties. The specialist may also try to assist the parties to settle the case at that time. This is a good opportunity for the landlord to become informed of the tenant’s position, and to try to settle the case.
If the case does not settle, then the parties will then proceed to trial at a later date, also via Zoom. On the trial date, after the calendar is called, the parties must participate in a mandatory settlement conference before they may start their trial. That conference is a good opportunity for the parties to settle their case. In a non payment of rent case, it may be necessary to determine when the tenant is able to move out, and whether the tenant should pay any rent.
It is necessary for the parties to submit their trial exhibits by email prior to the trial date.
If a judgment for possession is entered for the landlord on the trial date, and the tenant does not move out, the landlord must file certifications with the court, as well as a request for issuance of a warrant for removal. It is the warrant which authorizes the court officer to lock out the tenant. Once the warrant is issued, the court officer will typically contact the landlord’s attorney to schedule the lockout. Upon the locking out, the landlord regains actual possession of the leased premises.
Residential landlords in the business of deriving income from their rental properties are foolish not to retain seasoned counsel, not only for the handling of eviction cases, but also for the preparation of legally enforceable leases and notices that comply with New Jersey law.
Otherwise they can be facing an unpleasant surprise and bad outcome in the courtroom.