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How do you evict someone who was never really your tenant? The Ejectment Action in New Jersey

Published On: April 17th, 2016Categories: Landlord-Tenant

Landlord-tenant Court in New Jersey is where you go to file an eviction. However the pre-requisite for the Court to have jurisdiction over an eviction matter is that there exists a landlord-tenant relationship. A tenant moved into a rental premises in consideration for an agreement to pay the landlord rent, and now the landlord seeks to evict this tenant either for cause or for non-payment of rent.

But what about when someone is occupying a property but was never really a tenant? Some examples of this might be:

  • A family member or friend who moved in temporarily, but now won’t leave
  • A former owner of the property, who was foreclosed on but remains in the property after the new owner purchased it at the sheriff’s sale
  • A “squatter” who moved in to a property or apartment without ever being given permission to do so
  • A tenant of a storage space or parking garage who has moved into such space (yes this happens)

In these cases, there was never really a landlord-tenant relationship but the owner of the property needs a legal process to remove the occupant, we must file an ejectment action pursuant to NJSA 2A:35-1 et seq.

These are usually heard by the sitting landlord-tenant division judge, however they are technically a special civil division matter under R 6:1-2 because monetary damages can be awarded against the occupant (landlord-tenant division does not have jurisdiction over money damages, only over actual possession). In fact, the ejectment statute allows up to triple damages and attorneys fees to be awarded against the occupant.

The procedure is a little complicated, and like everything in New Jersey landlord-tenant law the landlord must follow the rules PRECISELY. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s or the case will get thrown out and more rent will be lost.

  • 1. First you must file with the special civil division an Order to Show Cause (OTSC), Verified Complaint with Certification, proposed Order of Ejectment and proposed Writ of Execution.

  • 2. The Judge then signs the OTSC, sets forth the details for service on the occupant, and sets a return date for the hearing/trial.

  • 3. The landlord must serve the occupant per the judge’s instructions and file a certification of service with the Court.

  • 4. Finally, the case is heard by the Court on the return date of the OTSC. Although technically such a case should be heard on the papers if the occupant files no response, and such is the language of the boilerplate ejectment OTSC pleading, it is my experience that judges will want to hear the landlord’s testimony whether a response was filed or not so be prepared to appear at the hearing.

These cases are few and far between compared to standard landlord-tenant evictions, so one must be careful to follow up with the Court and especially the Court staff to ensure it goes through correctly and quickly.

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