How to Approach New Jersey’s Landlord-Tenant Court System

May 9, 2013

Empty Courtroom Landlord-tenant disputes, like any legal disagreement, are best solved when the parties work through their issues and reach a resolution on their own. These solutions tend to be the most effective and the least expensive. However, for those occasions when compromise and settlement is impossible, the New Jersey Courts have a special destination for these matters: the Landlord/Tenant Section of the New Jersey Superior Court, Special Civil Part. This section receives, and adjudicates, the vast majority of landlord-tenant cases.

Commercial landlords have a variety of reasons they might take tenants to court. Many of the landlord-initiated cases the Landlord-Tenant Courts receive involve a variant of the following: the tenant’s non-payment of rent (or consistent late payment of rent,) ongoing pattern of disorderly conduct, intentional damage to the landlord’s property, or recurring violations of the landlord’s rules and regulations as stated in the lease agreement.

Landlords or tenants must file their complaints with the Civil Part clerk in the county where the rental property is located. The clerk’s office has landlord-tenant complaint forms available for petitioners’ use. The filing fee is $25, plus $2 more for each additional defendant. The petitioning party should make certain to identify its opposing party as an individual, corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship. Keep in mind that a corporation must retain an attorney to represent it before the court. This is true whether the corporation is the landlord or the tenant, the petitioning party or the responding party.

If you are a landlord suing your tenant, you have the obligation to prove to the court the statements you made in your petition. This involves some detailed advance preparation if you represent yourself. You should make sure that any witnesses you want to testify before the court are in attendance and on time for your case. Also make sure you prepare your questions for witnesses in advance of the hearing. You cannot use your witnesses’ written statements before the court, so your witnesses’ presence and preparation is essential. Also have the written evidence you need ready to go. This may include leases, bills, rent receipts, copies of bounced checks or photographs that bolster your complaint.

Note that the law does not require the tenant to submit a written response to your complaint. The tenant must attend the hearing and seek to disprove the landlord’s claims. Like a landlord, a tenant should be prepared to present witnesses and to offer the written or photographic evidence it has that supports the tenant’s version of events. For tenants seeking to argue that they withheld rent as a result of a landlord’s failure to make repairs, the tenant should be ready to demonstrate to the court the seriousness of the unrepaired condition and explain how this status prevents, or impairs, the tenant’s ability to use the property. If the dispute is in regards to rent, the tenant should bring an adequate sum of cash, or a money order or certified check for the unpaid rent, in the event the judge rules for the landlord.

Disputes going before the New Jersey Landlord-Tenant Court, while often not multi-million dollar cases, are still serious matters for those involved. If you are involved in a Landlord-Tenant Court matter, consult the real estate attorneys at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. for advice and representation. Our New Jersey real estate attorneys are highly skilled and experienced professionals who can help you achieve the result you desire in the most efficient way possible. Contact us online or call (201) 587-1500 or (212) 380-8117.

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