How to Report a Landlord in New Jersey for Unsafe Living Conditions
June 2, 2023
When a renter in New Jersey can’t obtain necessary repairs, before beginning a court case it’s usually possible to file a report with the proper government departments about the unsafe conditions on the property. Code inspectors have the power to order repairs or fine noncompliant landlords.
What Are Considered Unsafe Living Conditions in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, unsafe living conditions exist when a rental property doesn’t have safe and working:
Heating, between October 1 and May 15.
Air conditioning, at times and places where this impacts habitability.
Required smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.
Required window and door screens, between May 1 and October 1.
Features that affect health, safety, or habitability.
What Should Tenants Do Before Reporting a Violation in New Jersey?
In most cases, before reporting a violation, a tenant in New Jersey mustnotify the landlord by certified mailabout the issue and ask him to fix it within a time that’s “adequate” under the circumstances.
After receiving a complaint, an inspecting officer might contact the tenant for more information. Then the officer will usually inspect the property and cite the landlord for any code violations.
How Can a Tenant Report a Health or Safety Violation in Newark?
A tenant in Newark can report a health or safety violation by calling the Division of Code Enforcement at (973) 733-6471. Be ready to provide location, contact information, and a detailed description of the issue.
How Can a Tenant Report a Health or Safety Violation in Jersey City?
A tenant in Jersey City can report a health or safety violation by calling the Office of Code Compliance at 201-547-4900 or using the providedonline form. Select a location and issue, attach photos if available, describe the issue, provide contact information, and submit.
How Can a Tenant Report a Health or Safety Violation in Paterson?
A tenant in Paterson can report a health or safety violation by calling the Division of Community Improvements at (973) 321-1232. Be prepared to provide a detailed description of the issue and location as well as contact information.
What Could Happen to a Landlord After a Complaint Is Made in New Jersey?
After a tenant files a complaint about unsafe living conditions in New Jersey, an officer may inspect the property. The landlord must fix noted code violations. Otherwise, the landlord could be fined and the local government might file to condemn the property.
While not primary legal authority, the state’s Habitability Bulletin clarifies the applicable enforcement standard: “1. The defect must be of a ‘vital facility.’ Vital facilities are those things necessary to make the rental unit habitable. Examples of defects to vital facilities include: broken toilets, no hot or cold water, lack of heat or electricity or broken windows. 2. The tenant must not have caused the condition. 3. The tenant must have notified the landlord that the deficient condition existed and allowed the landlord adequate time to fix the defect.”
While not in itself legally binding, the state’s Habitability Bulletin provides the government’s current view of the basic enforceable standards, with appropriate citations: “From October 1st to May 15th, the rental premises shall be maintained at a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.; between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. the rental premises shall be maintained at a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water temperature should be maintained at a minimum of 120 degrees and a maximum of a 160 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“In this State, the doctrine of constructive eviction has been held properly invoked where there has been a physical interference with the tenant’s use of the premises, such as when the landlord has failed to provide heat, or repair defective plumbing, or prevent water seeping through exterior walls, or fix a leaky roof.”
While not primary legal authority, the state’s Habitability Bulletin clarifies the applicable enforcement standard: “Screens suited to protect the interior of the building against insects must be provided and kept in good repair for each exterior door, except exterior doors which do not provide ventilation. Screens shall also be provided, maintained and installed for each openable window in living and common areas. Screens are not required for units or common areas on the 6th floor or above. Screens shall be provided from at least May 1 to October 1 of each year, where required. … Leases must contain a notice advising tenants that, upon written request by the tenant, the owner is required to provide, install and maintain window guards in dwelling units with children 10 years of age or younger. In addition, yearly written notices must be given to tenants informing them of the window guard regulation. Landlords are not required to offer window guards for first floor units.”
“Smoke alarm(s) must be installed on each level of the dwelling, including the basement, outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedroom. Smoke alarms may be placed on the ceiling or within 12 inches of the ceiling on the wall.”
“Carbon monoxide alarms shall be installed and maintained in full operating condition in the following locations: 1. Single station carbon monoxide alarms shall be installed and maintained in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping area in every guestroom or dwelling unit in buildings that contain a fuel-burning appliance or that have an attached garage. 2. As an alternative to the requirements in (a)1 above, carbon monoxide alarms may be installed in the locations specified in the Uniform Construction Code (N.J.A.C. 5:23). A copy of the certificate of approval issued by the local construction code enforcing agency shall be provided to the Bureau at the time of installation, at or after the time of inspection, or at any other time, as proof of installation, in accordance with the Uniform Construction Code.”
New Jersey courts have adopted a set of criteria for evaluating whether a nonspecific condition on a rental property may create a habitability issue: “1. Has there been a violation of any applicable housing code or building or sanitary regulations? 2. Is the nature of the deficiency or defect such as to affect a vital facility? 3. What is its potential or actual effect upon safety and sanitation? 4. For what length of time has it persisted? 5. What is the age of the structure? 6. What is the amount of the rent? 7. Can the tenant be said to have waived the defect or be estopped to complain? 8. Was the tenant in any way responsible for the defective condition?”
While the law doesn’t specify adequate notice under every possible circumstance, the standard provided under the Notice to Quit will always be held as adequate: “Under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.2, the Notice to Quit must either be given personally to the tenant or a family member in possession of the apartment or, as an alternative, the notice may be sent by certified mail, but ‘if the certified letter is not claimed, notice shall be sent by regular mail.’ The wording in the statute implies that the regular mail service should not be made until after the certified mail is unclaimed. We take judicial notice, however, of the common practice of sending the certified and regular mail notices at the same time, so that if the certified mail notice is unclaimed, there need not be the long delay which often occurs before the sender is apprised of this fact. We find no fault with this practice.” Tower Management Corp. v. Podesta, 226 N.J. Super. 300, 304 (App. Div. 1988)See also the state’s Habitability Bulletin which unequivocally demands certified mail as a means of service: “Notice should be given in writing and by certified mail, return receipt requested.” N.J. Dep’t. of Com’ty Affairs, Habitability Bulletin 2 (Sep. 2022 ed.) (bolding and italicization in original)