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Which eviction records are public and which are not?

With evictions still taking an unreasonably long time from filing to getting to trial, landlords have no choice but to be extra careful who they rent to. After all whether the courts move quickly or not, whether their tenants pay them or not, landlords still have to pay their taxes, mortgage, water/sewer and other costs on time every month. A single non-paying tenant can put a landlord in debt or worse by the time the courts finally process the eviction. A credit check, proof of employment and that it is a long term position, and other background research is critical in deciding whether to rent to a particular tenant. One of the most important things to check for is a history of prior evictions and other civil litigation. We have had multiple clients call us about a tenant who bounced their first month’s rent check, only to realize we had just evicted this same tenant for a prior client. There are “professional” tenants out there it is a real thing. And we have found that the “background check” that realtors do, and which usually claims to conduct a check for prior evictions, often does not actually check for prior evictions! Fortunately evictions and other court filings are public records, and can be checked directly online by doing a “party name” search on public judiciary websites such as New Jersey’s ACMS system.

It is important to note that not all eviction records are in fact public however. All evictions which were filed during the Covid “covered period” for example, from March 2020 through December 2021, were excluded from NJ public records. Other exceptions are found in R 1:38-3 for “(11) Records of (i) adjudicated or otherwise disposed of landlord tenant cases in which no judgment for possession ever has been entered; and (ii) landlord tenant cases in which judgment for possession was entered seven years ago or longer.” So although a tenant may not have a public record of an eviction, that does not mean an eviction was never filed against them.

It is often a good idea to also search for civil cases and money judgments against the person you are thinking to rent to. Those records remain public basically indefinitely (although records may be harder to find for cases pre-dating the digital era). If your rental applicant has been sued by credit card collection companies 5 times in the past 5 years, that is probably a red flag whether they have ever been evicted before or not!

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