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NOTICE: Special Civil Part – Landlord/Tenant Matters During COVID-19

***Disclaimer – The Full Order and All Attachments are attached in the link below for your review.***

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many efforts have been and continue to be made to assist landlords and tenants affected by the public health crisis and remove barriers to justice. The Judiciary is implementing a multifaceted plan for improving the handling of Landlord/Tenant (LT) cases from the outset, including by providing litigants with information and resources. Our primary goal is to assist litigants in resolving their matters, not dispose of cases through trial or default. No party will be pressured into settling their case.

The Judiciary has engaged with tenant advocates as well as landlord representatives to create the attached informational materials that will be distributed to all parties in LT cases. In addition, every vicinage, in coordination with their Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement Committees and Ombudsmen, is organizing virtual LT outreach events to provide litigants and others with up to date information on current court operations. Those outreach events, conducted in partnership with key stakeholders, will highlight local community resources that provide legal, financial, and other forms of assistance relating to rental housing and mortgage payments.

This Directive sets forth the requirements of newly implemented LT case management steps, procedures, and forms for (1) service of complaints and conferences; (2) CARES Act certification of compliance; and (3) Order to Show Cause process for LT trials in limited circumstances.

(1) Service of Complaints; Intake Conferences; Communications with Parties; Pretrial/Settlement Conferences

The Supreme Court in the July 24, 2020 Seventh Omnibus Order continued the suspension of LT trials until further notice and reinforced its direction that conferences, including pretrial/settlement conferences, be scheduled in LT matters. Separate from the Court’s action, residential evictions continue to be suspended pursuant to Executive Order 106 (issued March 19, 2020). The following procedures and standardized forms have been promulgated for service of LT complaints and scheduling of remote intake and pretrial/settlement conferences in residential and commercial cases while trials and evictions are suspended.

The forms are not to be altered or modified other than by court staff including case-specific or county-specific information, phone numbers, email addresses, and instructions for attending remote events in each case. As the handling of LT matters evolves, these forms may be amended.

LT Complaints Not Yet Served

For LT cases where the complaint has not yet been served, court staff should make contact with the parties and communicate as much information as possible at the outset of the process. For this reason, court staff will include standardized documents when serving summonses and complaints on tenants by ordinary mail and when providing them to Special Civil Part Officers for personal service. Landlords also will receive the Landlord/Tenant Information Sheet (Attachment 2) via email.

  • Tenant Notice (Attachment 1) – directs tenants to contact the appropriate Special Civil Part Office for information regarding their case; and
  • Landlord/Tenant Information Sheet (Attachment 2) – provides relevant information and potential resources regarding LT matters.

LT Complaints Already Served

For those cases that have already been served, court staff will conduct an intake conference to collect information; determine whether the matter has been resolved; and, if the matter has not been resolved, advise of the scheduling of a pretrial/settlement conference. The court must also directly communicate relevant information to the parties by providing these documents to parties who have already been served:

  • Initial Contact Notice (Attachment 3) – if court staff contact the parties via mail, this notice will be used. It directs the parties to email or call the appropriate Special Civil Part Office to provide certain information; and
  • Landlord/Tenant Information Sheet (Attachment 2) – provides relevant information and potential resources regarding LT matters.

Pretrial/Settlement Conferences – All LT Cases

Pretrial/settlement conferences will be conducted remotely by specially trained court staff. No party will be penalized if they do not reach an agreement. If a settlement is not reached, the matter will be scheduled for trial once the Supreme Court permits the resumption of LT trials. These documents will be provided once a pretrial/settlement conference is scheduled:

  • Scheduling Notice for Remote Pretrial/Settlement Conferences (Attachment 4) – provides details and instructions for the conference; and
  • Pretrial/Settlement Conference Information Sheet (Attachment 5) – provides the parties with information regarding settlement.

(2) Federal CARES Act Compliance Certification

On March 27, 2020, the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, instituted a temporary moratorium on eviction filings for certain rental properties that participate in a federal assistance program or are subject to a federally backed mortgage loan. See 15 U.S.C.S. §§ 9057, 9058. For rental properties that fall within the Act’s definition of a “covered dwelling,” landlords were prohibited under the CARES Act from initiating eviction proceedings against a tenant for the nonpayment of rent until the CARES Act expired (July 25, 2020 unless extended retroactively).

In order to ensure that complaints against residential tenants for nonpayment of rent comply with the CARES Act, the Supreme Court in its July 14, 2020 Order temporarily relaxed Rule 6:2-2(a) to require that plaintiffs/landlords submit a Federal CARES Act Compliance Certification.

  • Federal CARES Act Compliance Certification (Attachment 6) – as promulgated by the Acting Administrative Director of the Courts, plaintiffs/landlords must file this certification in all nonpayment of rent cases filed during the CARES Act filing moratorium (March 27, 2020 through and including July 24, 2020, unless otherwise extended). The certification must be filed before any pretrial/settlement conferences or trials are scheduled.

(3) Orders to Show Cause in Emergencies; Sample Order to Show Cause Form for Use by Landlords

By Order dated July 14, 2020, the Supreme Court amended LT processes during COVID-19 by allowing plaintiffs/landlords to seek an LT trial based on emergent circumstances. In addition to allowing for LT trials in those narrow circumstances, the Court’s Order acknowledges that the court can order an eviction in the “interest of justice” as provided by Executive Order 106. As provided by the Court’s Order, nonpayment of rent, alone, does not warrant a trial, unless the case involves the death of the tenant.

The court will review all applications for an Order to Show Cause with the case proceeding to trial only if the court determines that an emergency exists. The Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, and the Summary Dispossession Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18- 53, provide the following grounds for the removal of tenants that may constitute emergent circumstances justifying an LT trial:

  • Disorderly tenant (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53(c) or 2A:18-61.1(b));
  • Willful or gross negligent damage to premises (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53(c) or 2A:18-61.1(c));
  • Abating housing or health code violations (landlord seeks to permanently board up or demolish premises because cited by authorities/inspectors for substantial health and safety of tenants) (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(g));
  • Occupancy as consideration of employment (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(m));
  • Offenses under comprehensive drug act (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(n));
  • Assaults or threats against landlord or certain other persons ((N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(o));
  • Eviction for civil violations (tenant found by preponderance of evidence that theft of property, assault, terroristic threats against landlord or member of their family, employee of landlord’s, etc.) (N.J.S.A. 2A:18- 61.1(p));
  • Eviction for theft (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(q)); and
  • Human trafficking (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(r)).

The above list is not meant to be exclusive. The court will take into consideration the circumstances of each case in determining whether a trial is warranted.

Absent the lack of consent to proceed remotely, or significant technological barriers on the part of either party, any LT trials that proceed due to a finding that doing so would be in the interest of justice should be conducted remotely. In the very limited circumstances that a remote trial cannot be accomplished, the case should be scheduled for an in-person trial in accordance with the Judiciary’s Post-Pandemic Plan.

  • Sample Order to Show Cause form (Attachment 7) – this sample form may be used when seeking to have a LT trial based on emergent circumstances.

Questions should be directed to the Civil Practice Division by phone at (609) 815- 2900 x54900 or by email at civilwebsites.mbx@njcourts.gov.

Attachments:(1) Tenant Notice

(2) Landlord/Tenant Information Sheet

(3) Initial Contact Notice

(4) Scheduling Notice for Remote Pretrial/Settlement Conferences

(5) Pretrial/Settlement Conference Information Sheet

(6) CARES Act Compliance Certification

(7) Sample Order to Show Cause form

/s/ Hon. Glenn A. Grant, J.A.D.

Dated: July 28, 2020

NOTICE Special Civil Part – Landlord:Tenant Matters During COVID-19.pdf