In a series of posts, our blog has been examining eviction here in New Jersey, providing some much-needed guidance to both landlords and tenants on a process that can often seem arcane to the uninitiated.
Specifically, we first examined the steps that must be taken by a landlord to effectuate a proper eviction and then shifted focus to some of the grounds for a good cause eviction under the state's Anti-Eviction Act. In today's post, our last on this issue, we'll examine more about what happens once a landlord secures a judgment for possession, and the law's stance on self-help evictions or lockouts.
Judgment for Possession
To recap, a judgment for possession is the document granted to a landlord by the court once they've demonstrated grounds (i.e. good cause) exist for the eviction. It essentially declares that a tenancy is terminated and that the eviction process can begin.
Once the judgment for possession is granted, a landlord has 30 days from the date of its issuance to file an application for a warrant for possession with the Clerk of the Special Civil Part. This document, which can't be issued until three days after the judgment for possession has been granted, enables the landlord to force the tenant off the premises.
Once the warrant for possession is served on the tenant, they have three business days to move everyone and everything out of the rental unit. Failure to do so will mean that the landlord can arrange for the court officer to have the tenant locked out or evicted.
A landlord cannot keep any of the tenant's personal belongings, but can see that they are stored. Furthermore, they must allow tenants to remove their belongings from the premises.
Self-help evictions and lockouts
A self-help eviction occurs when a landlord or someone acting on their behalf enters a unit without the tenant's consent -- and without a judgment for possession -- and proceeds to force the tenant out. Similarly, a lockout occurs when a landlord, without having gone through the aforementioned legal process, padlocks the tenant's door and refuses to allow them back inside, or shuts off the utilities to force them out.
Both self-help evictions and lockouts are illegal under state law and landlords who persist in this conduct despite being warned by law enforcement can be charged with a disorderly persons offense.
Here's hoping the foregoing information has proven helpful. Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have questions about the eviction process or have another landlord/tenant-related matter you would like to discuss.