New Jersey Landlord Responsibilities for Habitability
June 2, 2023
Most places, including New Jersey, make a landlord responsible for the “habitability” of rental property. This means rental properties must be kept in proper condition to use for their intended purpose. Habitability is an important right for renters, but can be complicated because of details and differences in habitability requirements.
New Jersey Implied Warranty of Habitability
In New Jersey, the implied warranty of habitability means that a landlord must provide and maintain safe and habitable rental property. “Implied” means the requirement applies whether or not the lease agreement specifically says so and even if the lease tries to waive the obligation.
Examples of clear habitability violations include:
Exposed electrical wiring.
A pipe leaking human waste.
A broken front doorknob that won’t lock.
However, the implied warranty of habitability does not guarantee that anything at the property will be pretty, clean, new or issue-free, so it doesn’t cover things like stained carpet or dents in a wall. It only guarantees basic health and safety.
Landlord Responsibilities in New Jersey
Note: Check local city/county laws and ordinances for additional requirements.
Landlord Responsibilities for Heating & Air Conditioning in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords mustprovide adequate heatingfor rental properties between October 1 and May 15 of every year. There isn’t a specific legal requirement to provide air conditioning, but courts have found in some cases that a broken air conditioner during a hot season creates a habitability issue.
Are Landlords Required to Provide Air Filter Replacements in New Jersey?
New Jersey landlordsdon’t have to replace things like air filters,unless required heating equipment won’t work otherwise.
Landlord Responsibilities for Plumbing in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords mustrepair defective plumbing that interferes with the use of the rental property,although the renter is usually equally responsible for using the plumbing in a reasonable and sanitary way that doesn’t cause damage.
Are Landlords Required To Provide Hot Water in New Jersey?
New Jersey landlords mustprovide and maintain running heated waterfor rental properties.
Are Landlords Responsible for Fixing Clogged Drains & Toilets in New Jersey?
New Jersey landlords mustfix clogs the renter didn’t causewhich interfere with the use of the rental property.
Are Landlords in New Jersey Responsible for Fixing Leaks?
New Jersey landlords mustfix leaks the renter didn’t causewhich interfere with the use of the rental property.
Landlord Responsibilities for Kitchen Appliances in New Jersey
New Jersey landlordsdon’t have to provide or maintain kitchen appliancessuch as a dishwasher, stove, oven, microwave, or refrigerator.
Landlord Responsibilities for Electrical Issues in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords are responsible formaking sure there are no electrical issues that endanger basic safety or habitabilityon the rental property.
Are Landlords Responsible for Replacing Light Bulbs in New Jersey?
New Jersey landlords arenot responsible for replacing light bulbsor particular light fixtures.
Landlord Responsibilities for Garbage Removal in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords do not have specific and clear guidance regarding their responsibility for garbage containers and removal. However, since a rental unit is not habitable without proper waste disposal, the renter can arguably deduct the cost of garbage containers after proper notice, if the landlord doesn’t provide them.
Landlord Responsibilities for Landscaping in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords haveno specific obligation to provide landscapingor maintain it with actions like cutting grass. They only have to deal with issues like fallen trees if they interfere with the cleanliness of common areas, violate local codes, or create a hazard to health and safety.
Landlord Responsibilities Regarding Mold in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords areresponsible for most mold issues.While there’s no state requirement for testing, landlords must investigate and fix mold problems since they threaten health and safety. If the renter created the mold issue, the renter will be liable for the repair expenses.
Landlord Responsibilities Regarding Pests in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords are responsible forfixing pest issues the renter didn’t cause,including rats, roaches, mice, bed bugs, and ants. If the renter created the pest issue, the renter will be liable for the repair expenses.
Landlord Responsibilities for Windows & Window Coverings in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords are responsible forproviding window screensfor openable windows below the sixth floor, and for all exterior doors, between May 1 and October 1 of each year. They also have to provide notice about the availability of window guards for young children, in certain cases.
Landlord Responsibilities Regarding Safety Devices in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords are responsible forinstalling and maintaining required smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectorson rental property.
Are Landlords Responsible for Replacing Batteries of Safety Devices in New Jersey?
New Jersey landlords have tomaintain safety devices in full operating condition,which includes battery replacement as necessary.
Landlord Responsibilities for Washers and Dryers in New Jersey
New Jersey landlords arenot required to furnishtheir rental properties with a working washer and dryer.
Renter’s Rights for Repairs in New Jersey
New Jersey renters have theright to repairs for issues that affect health and safety,unless they caused the issue themselves. To exercise their right, the renter must start by notifying the landlord of the issue by certified mail. The landlord gets “adequate time” after notice to fix the issue.
If the issue isn’t fixed within the legally required time, the renter canrepair and deduct,ask a court toabate (withhold) rent,or ask a court toorder repairs or compensation.In severe cases, the renter canclaim constructive eviction and move out.
“[In addition to withholding rent,] a tenant may initiate an action against his landlord to recover either part or all of a deposit paid upon the execution and delivery of the lease or part or all of the rent thereafter paid during the term, where he alleges that the lessor has broken his covenant to maintain the premises in a habitable condition. In such an action, if the alleged breach on the part of the landlord is proven, the tenant will be charged only with the reasonable rental value of the property in its imperfect condition during his period of occupancy. As a prerequisite to maintaining such a suit, the tenant must give the landlord positive and seasonable notice of the alleged defect, must request its correction and must allow the landlord a reasonable period of time to effect the repair or replacement. Not every defect or inconvenience will be deemed to constitute a breach of the covenant of habitability. The condition complained of must be such as truly to render the premises uninhabitable in the eyes of a reasonable person.”
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)
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 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.”
“(a) An occupant shall in addition to complying with all provisions of this chapter applicable to him, be responsible for violations of this chapter to the extent that he has the power to prevent the occurrence of a violation or assist in abating the violation. An occupant has the power to prevent the occurrence of a violation if: 1. It is caused by his own willful act or the willful act of a member of his family or household, or of his guest; or 2. It is the result of his gross negligence, neglect or abuse, or the gross negligence, neglect or abuse of a member of his family or household, or his guest.
“(b) The occupant, any member of his family or household, or his guest shall, with respect to the public parts of the premises, be liable if a violation is caused by his own willful act, gross negligence, neglect or abuse.”
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.”
“[W]here there is a breach of the landlord’s covenant of habitability, there construed as mutually dependent upon the tenant’s covenant to pay rent, the tenant has various remedial options open to him. He may regard the breach as a constructive eviction and quit the premises without further liability to the landlord for rent. He may give notice to the landlord of the defect and if the landlord fails to remedy the condition, the tenant himself may do so, deducting the reasonable cost of repair from his rent. Or he may seek from the court an abatement of rent calculated on the basis of the difference, if any, between the rent reserved and the market value of the premises in their defective condition.”
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 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.”