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Governor Murphy stops lock-outs for months due to covid-19: what can (or should) a landlord do if their tenant stops paying rent?

Published On: March 24th, 2020Categories: Landlord-Tenant

Executive Order 106 stopped all lock-outs in New Jersey eviction actions, except arguably in cases of threats or severe damage by tenants. This means that judgments of possession for non-pays, hold-overs and other non-urgent cases (perhaps 99% of all cases filed) will not be enforced until 2 months after the end of the state of emergency. Unless Governor Murphy waives this and allows lock-outs earlier (not likely in this writer’s opinion).

The Order does NOT stop eviction proceedings, it only stops the lock-outs that follow such proceedings. However the Courts are also in a wait and see mode right now. All court proceedings, including landlord-tenant court, have been adjourned through the end of this week. The cases scheduled for trial this week have all been adjourned. It is very likely that this hiatus in trials will continue well into April if not May. However the Court offices are open, and they are accepting new filings including eviction complaints. A landlord can file an eviction, might not get a court date until May or later, and any lockout would not happen until 2 months after the end of the state of emergency so possibly July or August but who knows.

There are tenants who paid the rent every month on time until this recent crisis caused a lay-off. Smart landlords will work with these tenants, reducing the rent temporarily or allowing them to pay it back later when they get their benefits and/or a new job. It is tough times and we all have to work together, hopefully the mortgage companies are as understanding with landlords who fall behind in these times due to their tenants losing work.

But there are tenants who stopped paying the rent before all this happened, even when the economy was booming, and who for other reasons are a nightmare for their landlord. In this situation, it would be wise to file any eviction as soon as possible even though it won’t go anywhere for a while. There will be a wave of evictions in the coming months, and a backlog like never seen before once the courts open back up. Filing now puts a landlord at the front of the line when things get back to normal. If your ability to make mortgage payments depends on receiving the rent from your tenant(s), you do NOT want to be at the back of that line.

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