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Yet another change in landlord-tenant court procedures and requirements, but finally it’s an improvement.

Since covid the courts in New Jersey have repeatedly changed their policies and procedures for landlord tenant court. They have always made it more complicated and difficult for landlords, who already face extensive delays in removing non-paying tenants from their property. It should be noted that none of these policies or procedures ever allowed a landlord with non-paying tenant to avoid paying their mortgage – taxes – insurance – water or sewer bills, or any of the other costs associated with owning a property. It is arguable that the hard-working middle class owner of a 2-family house, who relies on the rents to be able to pay his or her mortgage, is the most hurt by the Court’s policies. Wealthy big-time landlords can easily afford attorneys to sort through all the red tape for them, and can balance out their nonpayment losses with other units they own that are paying the rent. Tenants get in many cases a year or more of living in an apartment without paying their landlord any rent at all. So the Court’s policies in trying to help non-paying tenants come directly at the expense of the hard-working middle class.

One of the most ill-considered covid era policies the court implemented was to require a separate case management conference before scheduling a trial date in any landlord-tenant case. Between a judge shortage, labor market shortage for court staff, and a 1.5 year backlog in evictions that piled up during covid when the courts closed down altogether, all counties had trouble scheduling evictions in a timely manner once the courts reopened. Then the NJ Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, added the requirement for two court appearances in any single landlord-tenant case. The first appearance was the newly required “case management conference”, the second was the trial date. The case management conferences rarely accomplished anything because tenants appeared at them less than 50% of the time and they often did not result in a settlement even when the tenant did show up. And even when they ended up in a settlement, to be official the settlements have to be put on the record in front of a judge. And in practice the courts rarely put the settlements on in a timely manner, they just couldn’t seem to coordinate between their own staff and the judges who needed to hear the settlements. Recently, in most of the cases where we had an agreement with the tenant at the case management conference, we still ended up needing to appear at the trial appearance just because the courts would take longer to schedule the settlement than to just do it at the trial. Therefore on balance the case management conference requirements accomplished almost nothing except adding to the already substantial delays and red tape in any eviction case.

Fortunately, the Court has finally recognized that these mandatory initial court appearances were a bad idea and has decided not to require them from September 2023 onwards. There are some other requirements in the Order that are a little troubling, such as possibly requiring proof of rent control registrations at time of filing the eviction at the court’s “discretion”. If implemented, it will cause far more red tape and delays because unlike in New York, rent control in New Jersey is governed by a patchwork of local ordinances and it is often far from clear whether a property is actually rent controlled or not in a given circumstance. That is what rent control boards are for, so potentially adding this responsibility to the landlord-tenant courts for any eviction would clog the courts unnecessarily. We will see if and how that requirement actually gets implemented, since it is discretionary. But at least there will no longer be the requirement for two separate court appearances. Hopefully the substantial delay in evictions that some counties still have since covid (especially Essex and Hudson) will finally start getting better. After all, “justice delayed is justice denied”.

Here’s a link to the court order if you would like to read it yourself: Notice and Order – Landlord Tenant – Refinement of Certain LT Reforms – Part 2 of 2 – Notice Dated 07-18-23

 

2023-07-21T19:51:14+00:00
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