Most people are well aware from personal experience about landlord-tenant relationships. Parties enter into a written lease providing for payment of a monthly rent and security deposit and containing the rights and responsibilities of the parties during the tenancy. Then if a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may file an eviction action in the Special Civil Part of the Superior Court. When that case goes to trial, if the tenant fails to establish a valid defense, the court will enter a judgment for possession. Then the landlord can seek the assistance of a court officer to lock the tenant out.
Under New Jersey landlord tenant law, tenants have numerous and substantial rights. For example, if the tenant occupies an apartment in a building that is foreclosed, the new owner cannot evict the tenant if there is an unexpired lease.
Sometimes property owners often have people living on their property who are not, technically, tenants. A property owner may have a live-in partner (boyfriend/girlfriend), a parent, friend or even adult child living with them. When the relationship between the property owner and these co-occupants irrevocably breaks down, property owners are often at a loss as to what they can do to gain control of their property.
The term “ejectment” refers to the process by which a property owner removes a non-tenant from possession. One increasingly common example is where a new owner acquires a foreclosed residential property at a sheriffs sale or auction, and the foreclosed owners still occupy the property. In that case, the new owner need not file an eviction action because the foreclosed owners are not tenants, and have far less rights than any New Jersey tenant. The new owner would file an ejectment action in the Special Civil Part. In such a case, the foreclosed owner-occupant could not legitimately argue that he should be allowed to stay if he pays the new owner some monthly amount. Rather, the court would order that he would be summarily removed.
Another example comes from a case that I recently handled, in which a client purchased a condo for himself and his girlfriend to live in. Once their relationship came to an end, he requested that she move out but she refused. She also claimed that she had nowhere to go and no money to pay rent. At some point after we filed the ejectment action, the girlfriend voluntarily moved out.
Many years ago, I represented an elderly woman who had a husband and wife living in her home to give her care, cook, clean and take care of the house. As the woman’s health declined, her family had to remove her to an assisted living facility. The woman’s family wanted to list the house for sale so that they could use the proceeds to pay the woman’s living expenses, but the husband and wife refused to leave. We filed an ejectment action and had the couple removed by the court officer who changed the locks. Most ejectment actions are processed on a summary basis.
It is crucial that the new owner consult with counsel before having any discussion with a foreclosed owner-occupant, and particularly that the new owner should not assume that she has any obligation to allow such persons to remain in exchange for some monthly payment.