NJ courts expect avalanche of evictions

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Administrative Director of the Courts Judge Glenn Grant have warned lawmakers that the end of state and federal moratoriums could result in an avalanche of new landlord-tenant eviction cases – nearly 200,000 – that could easily overwhelm the courts.

The state eviction moratorium that has been in place since March 19, 2020 was modified by a new law enacted on August 4, 2021, which means that some households are no longer protected by the state eviction moratorium.

The state eviction moratorium is the only one that may apply to New Jersey tenants because on August 26, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The State Eviction Moratorium: On March 19, 2020, New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy issued Executive Order 106, which suspended evictions throughout the state.

As a result of this “eviction moratorium,” except in rare circumstances, no tenant was allowed to be removed from his or her home as a result of an eviction proceeding. The moratorium did not stop court proceedings but it prevented lockouts and removals.

On August 4, 2021, Murphy signed a new law and issued Executive Order 249, which winds down the eviction moratorium for some households while making financial assistance more available for renters and landlords in need.

Under the new law, tenants may be protected from being evicted for owing rent that became due between March 1, 2020 and either August 31, 2021, or December 31, 2021, depending on your household income.

They will still owe the rent that was due during that time period, and a landlord can sue tenants for a money judgment to collect the amount of back rent that is owed. However, if an eligible tenant submits the required Income Self-Certification Form to the court, they cannot be evicted and removed from a home for failure to pay this rent.

The complexity of the law and the Murphy administration’s incredibly slow disbursal of rent assistance payments, which are to be funded with federal money, leaves thousands of needy tenants in jeopardy of becoming homeless.

There are some reports about landlords taking illegal measures to force tenants out of their homes for failing to pay rent but police often refuse to intervene because they consider such matters civil cases that should be brought to court, where processes are notoriously slow-moving.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued guidance to police ordering them to protect tenants from illegal evictions, which have put families at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic but it has gone unheeded by many law enforcement officials.

Responding to reports from tenants and a call for action from advocates, particularly Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, Grewal issued the statewide directive to all law enforcement agencies about their important role in preventing illegal lockouts and restoring tenants to their homes when such illegal actions occur.

The directive provides enhanced guidance to police regarding their duties under a state law that makes it a crime for landlords and others to evict tenants through illegal lockouts or other means, since only an officer of the court can execute an eviction order.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) launched a second phase of the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which has allocated $353 million to provide up to 12 months of rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households that have had a substantial reduction in income as a result of the pandemic.

The program, which was intended to prevent a wave of evictions after the moratorium is lifted, is backed up with thousands of applications but only about one in ten has resulted in any payment of funds.

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