The most common reason a tenant is evicted is for failing to pay rent. In New Jersey, a landlord can take steps toward eviction as soon as a tenant fails to pay rent on time.
Unless otherwise stated in the lease, rent is typically due on the first day of every month, even if the first is a weekend or holiday. A landlord is not required to give a tenant a grace period, and if the tenant fails to pay rent the day it is due, the landlord can begin the eviction process the very next day.
It is important to note that the landlord and the tenant can agree to different terms, but those terms must be in writing in the lease. The landlord could agree that if the first of the month falls on a weekend or holiday, then rent is due the following business day. The landlord could also agree to give the tenant a grace period before charging a late fee or beginning the eviction process. Whatever the agreement, the landlord and the tenant are both required to follow the terms of the lease.
In most cases, as soon as the tenant fails to pay rent when it is due, the landlord can immediately file an eviction lawsuit with the court. The landlord is not required to give the tenant any type of notice before filing the lawsuit (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § 2A:18-61.2).
However, if the tenant habitually pays rent late and the landlord has accepted the late payments, the landlord is then required to give the tenant a 30-day notice to cease before filing for eviction. The notice must state that if the tenant pays rent late again, the landlord will begin eviction proceedings against the tenant (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § 2A:18-61.2(b)).
If the landlord is required to use a notice to cease, the notice must be written and should include the following information:
If possible, the landlord, or the landlord's agent, must give the notice to cease to the tenant or to a member of the tenant's family who is over the age of 14. If the tenant or another family member over the age of 14 cannot be found, then the landlord can post the notice on the front door of the rental unit or in another conspicuous place (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § 2A:18-54).
If the tenant pays rent late again after receiving the notice to cease, then the landlord can immediately begin eviction proceedings against the tenant.
A landlord must receive judgment from the court in order to evict a tenant. The landlord must file a complaint with the Office of the Special Civil Part Clerk of the county where the rental unit is located. A hearing will be assigned, and the tenant will receive a copy of the filed paperwork. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and decide whether the eviction should occur. If the judge agrees the eviction should occur, the judge will grant the landlord a judgment for possession. This judgment for possession will give a court officer the authority to remove the tenant and the tenant's belongings from the rental unit.
It is illegal for a landlord to attempt to remove a tenant from a rental unit through any other way, such as changing the locks at the rental unit or shutting off the utilities. This type of eviction is often referred to as a "self-help" eviction, and it is illegal under New Jersey law (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § 2A:39-1). For more information on the subject, see the Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in New Jersey.
For more information on evicting a tenant in New Jersey, see the Grounds for an Eviction Bulletin, published by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The brochure Information for Landlords, published by the New Jersey Courts, also has useful information about going to court and what to except at the hearing. The self-help center at the New Jersey court website also has a helpful FAQ for landlords and tenants.
Nolo also has other articles on landlord-tenant relations in New Jersey, including tenant defenses to evictions in New Jersey. The New Jersey charts in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo website also have useful information. For more eviction articles, see Nolo's section on Evicting a Tenant or Ending a Lease.