What to Do With a New Jersey Tenant Who Doesn’t Leave, Even After Eviction

May 29, 2013

Abandoned.jpg As a landlord, one of the most sizable business challenges is dealing with a non-paying tenant. You may try to modify terms of the lease, or offer extra time to pay. Generally, though, a tenant who continues not to pay will face eviction. In some situations, though, obtaining the necessary judgments and legal paperwork for eviction is not enough, if the tenant still does not remove its property from the premises. When this happens, landlords must ensure they follow the law, or they could open themselves up to potential legal liability.

Once a landlord obtains a court order of eviction (“summary dispossession”), and a warrant for removal, the landlord may force the tenant and all its employees to evacuate the property. If, even after the issuance of the judgment and the warrant, the tenant still does not remove its property, the tenant still retains certain rights, and the landlord certain obligations, which are spelled out in the New Jersey Abandoned Tenant Property Act.

A landlord may sell or dispose of the tenant’s property that was left behind, but only under strict circumstances spelled out in the Act. If a landlord sells or disposes of property without the proper notice, the landlord risks incurring liability, not only to its evicted tenant, but also to third parties like lienholders and equipment lessors. Before acting, the landlord must provide a written notice to the tenant. The landlord should make sure that its notice informs the tenant of the need to notify all relevant lienholders, lessors and others with legal interests in the property that has seemingly been abandoned. The landlord should also perform their own search for the existence of liens on the tenant’s assets and send these lienholders notice of the abandonment.

Landlords should approach abandoned property with great care. Failure to follow the act could defeat the landlord’s right to recover the cost of removing the abandoned items, and give the tenant a right to recover double the amount of damages that was actually suffered as a result of the landlord’s improper disposal. If the landlord complies with all the provisions of the statute, though, then the following may be recovered from tenant: all reasonable storage costs the landlord incurred, including all reasonable costs of transporting the property to the storage facility.

These costs must not exceed the fair market value for the part of New Jersey where the rented property is located. A tenant also cannot recover from its landlord for losses suffered, assuming the landlord followed the law, unless the loss was the result of a willful or negligent act or omission.

In a perfect world, all tenants either timely pay their rent or amass their belongings and leave upon eviction, and all landlords would follow the law in dealing with tenant property left behind. Unfortunately, ours is not a perfect world, and landlords and tenants need to prepare for the possibility of problems that may arise from abandoned property after an eviction. To ensure you, or your landlord, are following all relevant laws and rules regarding tenant abandoned property, contact our real estate attorneys at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. Our New Jersey real estate attorneys can help you protect your rights, whether you are a landlord, lienholder or evicted tenant. Reach us online or call (201) 587-1500 or (212) 380-8117.

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