In New Jersey, you can be evicted for a number of different reasons, including not paying rent or violating the lease. However, there may be a few things a tenant can do to postpone the eviction, or perhaps even stop it altogether.
If your landlord decides to evict you, you will first receive a written notice that states the reason for the eviction and a time period to either comply with the notice, if possible, or move out of the rental unit. In New Jersey, you could typically receive one of two types of eviction notices, depending on the reason for the eviction:
It is important to note that you are not automatically evicted when the time period runs out. An eviction is a legal proceeding. If you did not comply with the eviction notice by the time the notice period ends, your landlord can then go to court and file the necessary paperwork to begin the eviction lawsuit against you. Depending on how busy the courts are, it could take anywhere from a week to months before a sheriff is ordered to evict you on a certain date. You can remain living in the rental unit until the sheriff is ordered to evict you, but remember that you will be required to pay the landlord rent until the day you move out of the unit.
Also, keep in mind that there are negative consequences to being evicted, other than losing your home. An eviction will have a negative impact on your credit report, and it could affect your prospects for future housing. Some landlords will not rent to people who have been evicted from a previous location.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy to stop your eviction, you should look at Evictions and the Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy may not stop an eviction, and you should carefully consider your options before doing so.
If you receive an eviction notice, you should first try talking to your landlord. You may be able to come to an agreement without going to court. An eviction will cost both of you money (as well as time), and your landlord may be willing to stop the eviction if you agree to certain terms, such as paying rent you owe or stopping behavior that violates the lease. If you can't come to an agreement that prevents you from moving out, perhaps you can agree on a certain date and time for when you will move out of the rental unit.
If you and the landlord are able to agree on anything, be sure to get the agreement in writing, signed and dated by both of you.
If you do not comply with the eviction notice and you and your landlord are not able to reach an agreement, then your landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court. You will receive a copy of the paperwork after your landlord files. You need to read through this paperwork carefully. It will have information regarding an upcoming hearing and whether you need to file any paperwork, such as an answer, with the court before attending the hearing. An answer is a document that allows you to state the reasons why you should not be evicted. This is where you need to put any defenses to the eviction, such as the landlord discriminating against you. In New Jersey, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against tenants based on race, religion, or disability, among other things. If the landlord has discriminated against you based on one of these protected categories, then you may be able to use that as a defense to the eviction (see the federal Fair Housing Act). For more ideas on possible defenses against an eviction, see Tenant Defenses to Evictions in New Jersey. You should also contact a lawyer to ensure you are using the best defenses available to you.
Regardless of whether you are required to file an answer with the court, you must attend the scheduled hearing. At the hearing, you will be able to present your defenses to a judge. The judge will then consider both sides of the argument and make a decision. If you do not attend the hearing, it is likely the judge will rule in the landlord's favor.
Even if you don't have any defenses against the eviction, you should still attend the hearing and talk to the judge. Depending on your circumstances (such as if you have minor children living at home or health issues), the judge might not schedule the eviction right away. The judge might give you a little extra time to prepare and move out of the rental unit before ordering a sheriff to perform the eviction. Keep in mind, though, that you will still owe your landlord rent until you move out of the rental unit.