In March of 2020, New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy enacted an eviction moratorium that suspended evictions of renters across the state. This was welcome news to many renters who were hit hard financially by COVID-19-related job losses, but as the New Year approaches, some renters are worried about whether or not these protections will remain in place. Especially since, as COVID-19 cases soar, the possibility of business shutdowns and unemployment also increases.
Below I will tell you more about your rights as a renter, and when a Passaic County real estate lawyer could be of help to you. Bavagnoli & Bavagnoli is committed to treating our clients like family, and we can do so for you, too. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you are in need of legal help.
Can my Landlord Lock me Out During COVID-19?
Your landlord cannot lock you out during the pandemic, due to a state order protecting renters. Governor Philip Murphy issued Executive Order 106 last March, which forbids landlords from removing tenants from their homes until two months after a formal declaration that the COVID-19 health crisis has ended. Governor Murphy recently extended the order through January 20, 2021, which means renters are safe until at least March 20, 2021. And it is of course possible that the Governor will extend the order again.
The moratorium also applies to any pre-existing orders that a tenant be removed. In other words, you cannot be asked to leave your home during the pandemic. If your landlord does lock you out during COVID-19, this is illegal. Only the courts can order an eviction. If you are locked out of your home, your local police can help you get back in. If this presents problems, it is in your best interest to get in touch with a Passaic County real estate lawyer.
Am I Responsible for Paying my Rent During the Pandemic?
The New Jersey eviction moratorium only protects tenants from lockouts and evictions, which means you are still responsible for paying your rent each month.
One thing worth keeping in mind is that under Executive Order 128, which was signed in April of 2020, you can use your security deposit to pay your rent. You simply need to email or text your landlord and request that your deposit be applied to your rent and they will be required by law to accept your request. However, keep in mind that if you have damaged the apartment, the damages which may have been covered by your deposit will be billed to you when you move out.
If you are able to pay your rent, you should absolutely do this: if you fail to pay, your landlord can demand that you do so and file a court case against you. If you are struggling to pay your rent, you can contact the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. They can provide you with free counseling on your situation.
There are also some rental assistance programs that you can look into through the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Another way to handle it is to talk with your landlord directly so you can work out a payment plan. This will prevent them from filing an eviction action against you.
Can My Landlord Still File an Eviction Case Against Me?
Depending on your circumstances, a landlord may or may not be able to file an eviction case against you. Under the federal CARES Act, covered landlords were forbidden from filing eviction complaints against renters, but this expired on July 25, 2020. Covered landlords include those who hold a federally backed mortgage (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration) and those who rent federally subsidized housing to low-income and Section 8 renters as well as other renters living in federally funded housing.
Although the initial requirement has expired, at present if a landlord wants to evict a tenant for not paying their rent, they must serve the tenant with a notice 30 days in advance. Since New Jersey landlords cannot require tenants to leave their homes because the case must first go to court, covered landlords must give 30 days’ notice of the court proceeding. While you may have to go to court, you cannot be locked out of your home until the state moratorium is lifted.
Despite all of this, courts are still holding the rare eviction trial, but only for emergency cases, and nonpayment of rent does not qualify as an emergency. In other words, your landlord can file an eviction complaint against you, which you may receive in the mail, but there will not be a trial.
In some cases, you may be ordered to attend a pretrial or settlement conference over the phone or by videoconference to discuss settling a case your landlord has filed. If you receive such a notice, it is in your best interest to get in touch with a Passaic County real estate lawyer who can represent you in court. And keep in mind that even if you receive a pre-trial or settlement notice, you do not have to settle your case: a court date will be scheduled for when the courts resume eviction trials.
In a nutshell, if you are a renter in New Jersey, you are safe from eviction for the time being. Stay up to date on the moratorium, however, so you know your rights. If you believe your landlord is acting illegally in any way, especially if they are threatening to evict you, contact Bavagnoli & Bavagnoli. We can tell you more about your rights and what you can expect from your case.
Consultations are free at (973) 785-9522.