In New Jersey, if a lease exists, whether verbal or written, the tenant is automatically granted specific rights under New Jersey law (New Jersey Statutes Annotated) like the right to a rental until that is kept in good and habitable conditions and the return of the security deposit at the end of the lease.
Landlords also have rights such as the right to prompt payment of rent and the right to evict the tenant for failure to pay rent. These rights attach even if they are not included in the lease and sometimes even if the lease says contrary.
Counties and municipalities may also add rights or protections for either party so it is always best to check those as in your locality as well.
Warranty of Habitability in New Jersey
Landlord Responsibilities. Compared to other US states, New Jersey’s warranty of habitability laws are fairly open to interpretations. More importantly, the responsibilities these laws place upon landlords are fairly dependent on the situation and the condition the rental unit in question was in at the time it was leased out.
In any case, New Jersey tenants have a right to “safe, sanitary, and decent housing.” As such, a landlord operating in the state is required to provide several essential amenities to all tenants, while also providing repair services when any of these amenities fall out of proper operational order. Though not an exhaustive list, New Jersey law and precedent dictates that these essential amenities include:
- Adequate heating between October 1 and May 1
- Access to hot and cold water
- Walls, ceilings, and other exposed surfaces that are free of chipping or deteriorating paint
- Screens on windows and doors (in units below the 6th floor of a building)
- Window guards (at a tenant’s request)
- Locks that meet federal standards
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
New Jersey tenants are allowed to request repairs to any of these amenities (or other amenities enumerated in their lease agreement) at any time. New Jersey landlords only need to respond to these requests in a “reasonable” amount of time, though. As such, if a New Jersey tenant wants to ensure that their repair requests are handled in a timely manner, they must insist on a more concrete repair policy that limits their landlord to a specific repair period after a written request is filed.
Tenant Responsibilities. New Jersey tenants are responsible for paying rent on time and for keeping their dwelling in a habitable condition on a day-to-day basis. This includes removing any trash or hazards that may place the unit’s physical condition or a fellow tenant in harm’s way.
If a New Jersey landlord observes that their tenant is not meeting this latter obligation, they may issue a notice describing their observations and any terms through which the tenant may have the notice removed. If the notice’s terms are not met in 30 days (or less, depending on the lease), then the landlord may initiate an eviction order.
New Jersey tenants are also entitled to take certain kinds of “alternative action” against their landlord if they believe their landlord has failed to meet their legal obligations to provide a livable rental unit. When this occurs, a New Jersey tenant may begin to withhold rent payments until proper repairs are made.
Alternatively, a New Jersey tenant could perform the repair on their own and request a subsequent rent payment deduction on “self-help” grounds. This latter form of alternative action does require the tenant to provide notice to their landlord of their intent in advance of the self-initiated repair taking place.
Evictions in New Jersey
These are three of the most common reasons a New Jersey landlord may choose to legally evict one of their tenants:
- Nonpayment of rent – New Jersey does not require landlords to provide any kind of notice when their tenants fail to provide rent payments on the pre-established due date (including after an applicable grace period). As such, a New Jersey tenant who fails to pay rent on time may face an eviction notice as soon as the next day after rent had been due. Alternatively, a New Jersey landlord may issue a Notice to Cease that requires the tenant to pay rent on time during the next rental period or face a 30-Day Notice to Quit.
- Violation of lease terms – New Jersey landlords are required to provide at least 1 written warning to a tenant when they breach a term of their lease agreement. However, if the violation is not addressed after the first warning, that landlord may issue a 30-Day Notice to Quit that may or may not include terms for having the eviction motion removed. Tenants who remain on the premises and do not resolve the lease violation at hand may be subject to formal eviction at the hands of their landlord.
- Illegal Acts – When an illegal behavior is observed, a New Jersey landlord is allowed to immediately issue a 3-Day Notice to Quit to the offending tenant. This kind of notice, which doesn’t need to include terms for curing the offending action or behavior, is warranted if the tenant performs any of the following statutorily illegal acts:
- Caused willful destruction to their rental property
- Engaged in disorderly conduct
- Has been convicted of possession, use, or production of illegal drugs
- Assaulted or threatened the landlord
Evictions without a lease. New Jersey tenants who rent on a month-to-month basis without utilizing a lease agreement are considered “at-will” in the eyes of the state. Even so, they are entitled by law to at least 30 days of advance notice when their landlord intends to evict them without cause. If their landlord does have a cause for eviction, though, this notice period may be lowered to the same standards set for leased tenants.
Illegal Evictions. New Jersey strictly forbids its landlords from seeking evictions on discriminatory grounds. As such, no tenant in the state can be lawfully evicted because they are a part of or identify with a protected class trait. Victims of domestic violence similarly cannot be evicted after disclosing their status to their landlord.
New Jersey tenants are also protected from retaliatory evictions. This includes evictions that are leveled in retaliation to a tenant making a health or safety code violation report to a local regulatory authority or choosing to join a tenant union.
Security Deposits in New Jersey
All landlords in New Jersey are legally required to follow these statutory standards and limitations regarding how they collect, maintain, and redistribute security deposits:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – New Jersey landlords are prohibited from charging a tenant a security deposit that is valued at more than 1.5 times the value of that tenant’s per-period rent. However, if a New Jersey landlord decides to raise a tenant’s rent, they can also increase the amount of the security deposit charged to that tenant (but not by more than 10%).
- Interest and Maintenance – New Jersey landlords can either maintain their collected security deposits in a state- or federally-insured bank account that bares interest or in an insured money market fund. New Jersey state law does not specific when or if any collected interest on those deposits must be dispersed to tenants. In all cases, though, a New Jersey landlord is forbidden from mingling their personal funds with these security deposits.
- Time Limit for Return – New Jersey maintains three different standard time limits in which a tenant’s security deposit must be returned. First, under ordinary circumstances, a New Jersey landlord must return all of a tenant’s remaining deposit funds within 30 days. Second, if the tenant in question terminates their lease on the grounds of domestic violence, they are entitled to receive their remaining security deposit funds within 15 days. Finally, if the tenant was forcibly evicted due to a fire, flood, evacuation or other natural disaster, they are entitled to receive their deposit back in just 5 days.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a New Jersey landlord fails to return a tenant’s security deposit, in whole or in part, within the applicable time period, they may become liable to repay the entire deposit’s value (plus any damages deemed necessary by a court) as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – New Jersey landlords are exclusively allowed to make security deposit deductions to cover unpaid rent or to offset the cost of damages that exceed regular wear and tear. However, a New Jersey landlord may add additional reasons for which a deduction may be made into the terms of the lease agreements.
Lease Termination in New Jersey
Notice Requirements. New Jersey does not require tenants who are signed onto a lease with a fixed end date to notify their landlord in advance of that fixed date’s arrival. However, New Jersey does require tenants who participate in a periodic lease agreement without an end date to provide the following amounts of written notice in advance of their intended move out date:
- Week-to-Week lease – 7 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 1 month of advance notice
- Yearly lease – 3 months of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. In most cases, the easiest way for a New Jersey tenant to legally break off their lease early is by utilizing an early termination clause in their lease agreement. However, not all New Jersey landlords include such provisions in their leases. As such, New Jersey tenants should be aware that the state provides the following options for terminating a lease early due to extenuating circumstances:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – New Jersey’s landlord-tenant laws require full compliance from landlords when it comes to health and safety regulations (including the state’s warranty of habitability standards). If full compliance is not met (including, but not limited to, failing to provide essential repairs in a timely manner), an affected tenant may push for a lease termination on the grounds that continued habitation is unsafe by statutory standards.
- Landlord Harassment – New Jersey landlords are only permitted to enter a tenant’s dwelling after providing a “reasonable” amount of advance notice, as defined by the applicable lease agreement. If this entry policy is not properly adhered to, the affected tenant may claim that their privacy is violated. This kind of landlord harassment may then be used as a justification for an early termination of the lease agreement.
- Domestic Violence – Domestic violence victims in New Jersey may request an immediate lease termination if they claim that they or their child face a risk for physical harm if they remain on the premises. A New Jersey landlord can require proof of status before honoring this type of request, however.
- Health Crisis – New Jersey allows individuals who are living with a disabling illness, have recently survived an accident, or who are 62 years of age or older to request an immediate lease termination so that they can move to a facility more suited to their physical needs. An approval for this kind of request is contingent on proper documentation from a physician, though.
Terminating a lease early in New Jersey does not always absolve a tenant from the financial obligations relating to their former lease. In some lease agreements, a former tenant may be required to continue paying rent until a new tenant can be found for the unit. Because New Jersey landlords are not required to help in this re-renting process, a tenant may be forced to undertake this process of finding a sublessor on their own.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in New Jersey
Rent control & increases. New Jersey is one of only a handful of US states that statutorily allows cities and local jurisdictions to institute rent control policies. This allowance has taken root across the state, as indicated by the fact that more than 100 municipalities in New Jersey currently maintain some form of rent control. As such, it is more likely than not that a given landlord operating in New Jersey will be required to limit their increases each year. For more information on what rent control ordinances affect you, check with your local housing authority.
In most New Jersey municipalities where a rent control ordinance is active, landlords are required to justify their need to raise rent and provide a certain amount of notice before a rent increase can become active. However, across the entire state, New Jersey tenants are entitled to receive 30 days of notice in advance of a scheduled rent increase. Moreover, these tenants must be able to quit their current lease without further conditions if they do not accept the rent increase.
Rent related fees. New Jersey allows landlords to administer a wide variety of rent-related fees, so long as those specific fees are provided for in the terms of an applicable lease agreement. For example, a New Jersey landlord can charge as much as they want per diem and in total for a late rent payment fee, so long as the amount charged per instance is explained in text of the lease.
Landlords in New Jersey may also charge a returned check fee, though not immediately after a check from a tenant bounces. Instead, that landlord must demand a new check and wait 35 days. If a new check is not provided within that time frame, the landlord may charge a $100 fee or a fee equal to 3 times the check’s face value (but not more than $500 in total).
Housing Discrimination in New Jersey
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. New Jersey’s civil rights laws cover a lot of ground when it comes to fair housing protections. As such, the state provides an additional set of protected classes that may have standing to report instances of housing discrimination to the state’s regulatory authorities. Those supplementary protected classes include:
- Marital or domestic partnership or civil union status
- Gender identity or expression
- Affectional or sexual orientation
- Source of lawful income
- Source of lawful rent payment
- HIV/AIDS status
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Civil Rights adjudicates most complaints of housing discrimination within the state. They also dictate which behaviors and business practices may warrant reporting to their housing discrimination commission. Though not an exhaustive list, these are a few examples they provide that may be viewed as discriminatory if they are targeted at one of the state’s protected classes:
- “Steering” prospective tenants into living in certain neighborhoods
- Publishing advertisements that imply a preference for one type of tenant over another
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
- Establishing different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
- Falsely denying the availability of housing for inspection, sale, or rental
- Administering different application processes between different types of prospective tenants
- Refusing to provide certain financing services in relation to housing acquisition
Current or prospective tenants in New Jersey who feel that they have experienced discrimination can report their experience to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Civil Rights here. After filing a complaint, the DCR will follow up with the landlord in question to determine the veracity of the tenant’s claims. If this investigation returns a Finding of Probable Cause, then the DCR will support the claimant if they decide to seek damages through a civil suit rather than applying penalties of their own.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in New Jersey
Here are a few more important New Jersey landlord-tenant laws. Each deal with a different topic, but they are all important to understand for landlords and tenants who want to avoid disputes:
Landlord Entry. New Jersey’s landlord entry laws are a bit more diversified than most states because it differentiates between entry for maintenance purposes and entry for unit showing purposes. In the case of the former, a landlord must provide “reasonable” notice in advance of their arrival, as defined by the applicable lease agreement. However, in the case of the latter, New Jersey tenants are not legally obliged to provide entry unless their lease agreement requires it.
Also, regardless of other applicable entry policies, New Jersey landlords are always allowed to enter a rented unit without permission or advance notice when an emergency threatens the health or safety of the unit’s inhabitants. This, and all other, entry policies cannot be used to invade a tenant’s privacy, though, as repeated infringements of this kind may constitute illegal landlord harassment.
Small Claims Court. New Jersey’s small claims system allows landlords and tenants to bring cases against one another that arise from leasing disputes. While this does not include eviction cases (which are handled by the state’s Superior Court), New Jersey’s small claims courts do accept general cases valued at up to $3,000 (except in cases of wrongful landlord security deposit withhold, in which case the limit is $5,000). All viable cases must also fall within the statute of limitations, which is 6 years for both written and oral leases.
Mandatory Disclosures. New Jersey landlords are required to make a fair number of disclosures to their tenants before their new lease agreement can become valid. These mandatory disclosures include the following:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Certificate of Registration. New Jersey law requires landlords to file registration paperwork for each new tenant they sign a lease with. Within 30 days of a new lease becoming active, a New Jersey landlord must provide a copy of the resulting certificate of registration.
- Security Deposit. At the commencement of a new lease, a New Jersey landlord must provide a written disclosure that lists the following details relating to the maintenance of their security deposit:
- Name and address of the investment company or financial institution where the funds are held
- Type of account the funds are held or invested in
- The holding or investment account’s current interest rate
- The original value of the deposit
- Crime Insurance. New Jersey landlords must make information about obtaining crime insurance through the Federal Crime Insurance Program of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970. This information is typically disclosed as part of the lease agreement.
- Statement of Legal Rights. New Jersey tenants who are leasing from a new landlord are entitled to receive a document prepared by the state’s consumer protection department that outlines their legal rights and responsibilities in plain language. This document must also explain the landlords legal responsibilities.
- Flood Zone. If a tenant’s new rental unit lays within a known “flood zone,” a New Jersey landlord must alert them accordingly in the form of a disclosure.
Changing the Locks. New Jersey’s landlord tenant laws do not say much about changing locks, with regards to both landlords and tenants. Landlords are expressly forbidden from changing a tenant’s locks unilaterally, though, particularly in an attempt to cause a retaliatory lockout. New Jersey tenants, meanwhile, may be able to change their own locks, but that power is still subject to the provisions of their lease agreement.
Local Laws in New Jersey
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Newark Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Newark maintains a “Municipal Rent Control Ordinance” that only applies to residential properties built after a certain date. Among other provisions, this ordinance caps the amount a landlord can raise rent prices per year based upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Under certain interpretations, it can also limit how much a tenant is charged in fees on an annual basis. More information can be found on the Newark Office of Rental Control’s website.
Jersey City Landlord Tenant Rights
Jersey City, New Jersey, also a rent control ordinance that is formally referred to as “rent leveling.” This ordinance sets standards for what constitutes an “allowable increase,” as what steps must be taken by a landlord in order for a planned rent increase to be considered valid. To that end, this ordinance entirely bans rent increases from going into effect during the duration of a tenant’s lease. More information on this ordinance can be found on the Jersey City Office of Landlord/Tenant Relations website.