On March 9, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy declared a Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency in New Jersey due to the COVID-19 pandemic through Executive Order 103. On March 19, 2020, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 106, which halted removal of any “lessee, tenant, homeowner or any other person” from a residential property as the result of an eviction or foreclosure proceeding. Although foreclosure and eviction proceedings were permitted to continue in Court, actual lockouts, enforcement of judgments for possession, warrants of removal, and writs of possession were all stayed during the pendency of the Order.
Although the state of emergency officially ended with Executive Order 244, the New Jersey Legislature officially passed legislation (A5820/S3866) which expressly kept fourteen pandemic executive orders, including Executive Order 106, in place until January 1, 2022.
The new law, S3691, was signed on August 4, 2021, and gradually phases out the State’s eviction moratorium based on individual renters’ situations while mandating special protections for those who were unable to pay their rent during the period of March 1, 2020 through August 31, 2021 (the “covered period”), or, for certain tenants, through December 31, 2021. The law clears the way for current eviction actions to be dismissed against renters earning under 120% of the area median income (“AMI”).
To be afforded the new eviction protections, the tenant must complete a “Income Self-Certification Form” (the “Form”) through which the tenant certifies to their income level. The Form also allows you to certify whether you had an economic impact from COVID-19, certify whether you have applied for rental assistance, and answer some additional questions, all of which will assist the government in providing you with assistance.
The protected income levels under the new law are defined as a percentage of the median (average) income of a household of your size in the area in which you reside (also known as the Area Media Income or AMI):
- Middle income – at or above 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), and below 120% AMI
- Moderate income – above 50% AMI, below 80%
- Low income – at or below 50% AMI
- Very low income – at or below 30% AMI
A Chart is available on the Department of Community Affairs portion of the New Jersey State Government website.
All of above-listed income households are protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to accept a rent increase that accrued from March 1, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2021, if they meet the income eligibility requirements and file the required Form. Additionally, tenants who qualify as moderate-, low-, or very low-income will be protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to accept a rent increase that accrued from March 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021 — if they certify: (1) their income level; (2) that they suffered hardship due to COVID-19; and (3) that they have applied for rental assistance for which they are eligible. However, a landlord may pursue an action for a money judgment (not an eviction) for any rent due. In order to take advantage of the eviction protections in the new law, it is critical that you complete the Form.
Additionally, outstanding rent from before March 1, 2020, or after Aug. 31, 2021, can potentially be grounds for eviction. After Aug. 31, 2021, households that are middle-income and above can be evicted for rent arrearages accrued before March 1, 2020 and after August 31, 2021. Households that are moderate income or below can be evicted for rent accrued before March 1, 2020 and after December 31, 2021, provided that they certify: (1) their income level; (2) that they suffered economic hardship due to COVID-19; and (3) that they have applied for rental assistance for which they are eligible.
Under the new law landlords who are receiving rental assistance must waive any late fees accrued by tenants during the special protections period. Landlords may not report delayed rent to crediting agencies and they cannot sell the debt. Landlords may not disclose non-payment of rent to others and prospective landlords may not deny renting to a person who wasn’t able to pay rent during the covered period of March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021.
Given the complexities of the above subject matter, if you are a landlord or a tenant in New Jersey and you need legal assistance, please call us and schedule a free consultation.
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