HOW CAN I GET RID OF BAD TENANT IN NEW JERSEY?
I am getting this question almost daily from landlords who were left behind by temporary state laws that allow tenants to not pay their rent during the COVID-19 health emergency while also preventing New Jersey landlords from evicting tenants for almost any reason.
Tenants are able to get free help from Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, but no one has said how landlords are supposed to pay their mortgages. Fortunately, foreclosure actions in New Jersey are on hold, but there is no mention of what is going to happen with back owed payments. I received a call yesterday from someone who has not been paid rent in over 5 months, and the evictions courts may not be open until August 2020. So, here are some ways landlords can persuade a bad tenant to leave, and avoid a self-help eviction, which is illegal.
While most tenants are decent individuals, sometimes landlords end up with a not so nice tenant. These tenants can be a pain to deal with in a variety of ways, they can pay late, damage property, get behind on their rent, become a nuisance to other tenants, etc. I once had a tenant who used to leave dog excrement and used feminine napkins by the front door of other tenants who would complain about them.
Now, that is a crappy tenant!
Lucky for you, in many cases there is a way out for the landlord. I will discuss a few of the ways you can get rid of a crappy tenant, LEGALLY!
ABOUT EVICTION IN NEW JERSEY
Let me get this out of the way first: A COURT EVICTION IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE AND LENGTHIEST WAY TO GET RID OF A BAD TENANT. You can literally spend 3 to 6 months trying to evict someone, incur hefty legal fees, and if the tenant knows how to game the system, you are screwed. I once had a client whose tenant had been in one of her apartments for over a year without paying rent by filing multiple bankruptcies to prevent eviction.
Think of an eviction like a divorce between a landlord and a tenant. It can get ugly. On the other hand, if the tenant doesn’t show up at court it is one appearance and you can schedule a lockout. At which point, the tenant may wake up and fight. This is when an experienced New Jersey eviction attorney makes all of the difference.
So, avoid evictions as much as possible. However, if a tenant refuses to leave the rental place, which she has no longer a right to occupy, you might have no choice but to file in court. DO NOT USE SELF-HELP to evict someone. This is when you physically remove the tenant and her belongings from the rental unit without a court order or a sheriff officer’s assistance.
THIS IS ILLEGAL, and can get the landlord in hot water, and in some cases criminally charged and the landlord may even face potential prison time.
Some of the actions considered self-help are:
- Obstruction the entrance to the rental unit or property to prevent the tenant entering
- Changing the locks without the tenant’s knowledge or permission
- Turning off utilities like water, electric or gas
- Making threats or harassing the tenant to make them leave
- Removing or throwing away the tenant’s possessions
All of the above, and some others are ILLEGAL actions a landlord could engage in to get rid of a crappy tenant.
Thankfully, landlords can avoid headaches and trouble with the law by using a legal way to make sure the bad tenant leaves without resorting to an eviction.
Here are a few LEGAL ways for landlords to entice or encourage bad tenants to leave their rental unit.
Yes, I am that kind of attorney. I like to negotiate first.
If you have a tenant who has been good at paying their rent, but are now in a bad financial situation, try to negotiate. The tenant might already feel terrible they cannot afford to pay rent on time and be under a lot of pressure and stressed out. Maybe you can help the situation by allowing the tenant to get on a payment plan that is agreeable to you and her. This way you help them buy some time until they manage to get their finances back on track.
Make sure you mention “eviction” during the negotiation phase. This will make sure they have a sense of urgency in getting current. You will be surprised by what a simple eviction reminder can do to a tenant’s mind. Sometimes they miraculously find the money overnight.
2. BE NICE & POSITIVE
It is never a good idea to make an enemy of your tenant, even if they have fallen behind in their rent, do not threaten or embarrass the tenant. Keep your cool, and stay calm, this is critical even if the tenant is uncooperative. If you are kind to them, they will feel pressured to change their tone too. You do not have to be rude or aggressive when asking for what is yours. But you will have to be firm and stand your ground.
Be prompt in notifying the tenant that she is late with rent payments as soon as the due date runs out. Send them a ‘Rent Reminder Letter’ you can google this for samples. If you are not prompt with notification the tenant might think you do not need the money, or even worse, that you don’t care.
3. ASK THEM TO VACATE THE PROPERTY
What do you have to lose? You will be surprise but many bad tenants will simply pack their things and leave if you ask them nicely but firmly to do so. A high percentage of tenants vacate after getting a notice to vacate. These are notices sent by landlords to their tenants asking them to vacate the rental unit. The one good thing about this notice is landlords do not have to give any reasons for why he would like his property back.
Barring some specific circumstances (bringing an unauthorized tenant, dealing drugs on the rental property, non-payment of rent), in New Jersey, landlords must have a just cause to terminate a tenancy and must provide at least one month’s notice and specify the date on which your tenancy will end.
4. GIVE THE TENANT A RENT INCREASE
You might not be able to do this if there is a lease in place. However, once the lease expires or if you have a periodic tenant, you can do it. This means that the lease or rental agreement gets renewed automatically on a weekly or monthly basis. So, you can raise the rent from one month to another and make the bad tenant leave. Depending on your property, rent control rules may also apply.
5. CASH IS KING
When all else fails, and you are still stuck with a bad tenant who refuses to vacate or quit their bad behavior, you could try incentivizing them to leave with cash. Some tenants will cut ties with you for as little as a few hundred dollars. Think about how much is your peace of mind and getting rid of the problem worth to you. Will you be better off giving them a few hundred dollars rather than starting the eviction proceedings?
Trust me, you don’t want to be stuck with the tenant from hell for the months you will spend in court to finally evict them. I know that as a landlord this isn’t necessarily a popular choice. I know that it seems like rewarding a bad tenant. But in the long run, it will prove most effective and it will save you money, and most importantly, it will get rid of the bad tenant. It’s what we call a WIN-WIN-WIN!