On July 14, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a Notice to Lawyers and Public (“Notice”), which announced changes intended to fight the big backlog of residential landlord-tenant cases – after the moratorium on evictions temporarily ceased such activity for more than 1 year. The Notice attached 2 two Orders – one that establishes a new residential landlord tenant process (to take effect on September 1, 2021), and the other which amends Court Rules to be consistent with the Court’s new decisions.
One major takeaway is the Court’s approval of mandatory completion of Case Information Statements for landlords (a Landlord Case Information Statement “LCIS”) and tenants (a Tenant Case Information Statement (“TCIS”). The purpose of LCIS is to “capture pertinent information and … support [Court] management and efficient, early review by [Court] staff.” However, these are not evidence in the cases. For pending cases, landlords should file the LCIS 5 days before a mandatory case management conference. For new cases, landlords should file the LCIS with the initial complaint. for eviction. Similarly, tenants should file the TCIS 5 days before a mandatory conference.
The next key takeaway is the Court’s approval of the Landlord Tenant Legal Specialist (“LTLS” or “legal specialist”) Program, which “expand[s] opportunities for resolving landlord tenant cases before trial[.]” There will be a mandatory case management conference with a Legal Specialist before the trial date. The conferences is intended to provide benefits to both parties, including options to connect with rental assistance and legal resources.”
The Legal Specialist will also conduct settlement conferences in addition to the case management conference. The Court explained that “settlement efforts could immediately follow the initial portion of the conference and generally would be conducted virtually.
Next is the requirement that a landlord submit a copy of the lease and the landlord’s registration statement (if applicable) prior to the case management conference.
(1) in addition to the lease and registration statement, a landlord also must file a copy of the rent control statement if specifically requested by the court; (2) if the lease exceeds 10 pages, the landlord must file only the relevant provisions; and (3) all required documents (lease, registration statement, and rent control statement if requested by the court) must be submitted 5 days before the required case management conference.
As to Judgments, the two sides can now select one of two options: (1) immediate entry of judgment for possession; or, alternatively, (2) entry of the judgment for possession only after receipt of the landlord’s certification of breach of the settlement. There would also be a date for automatic dismissal of the judgment if the landlord does not certify to such a breach.
Finally, settlement agreements that provide for entry of judgment for possession against an unrepresented residential tenant must be written, signed by the parties, and reviewed and approved by the Court. But settlement agreement can be recited verbally before a Judge instead of having one with signatures.
Trials will be conducted virtually whenever possible, after the conclusion of the moratorium on residential evictions and the resumption of all landlord tenant trials. There will be a new form called “Landlord Tenant Procedures” that will be posted on the N.J. Judiciary public website and must be served along with the landlord’s complaint.
Going forward, for both landlords and tenants, knowledge of the new Rules for court cases is a must. There will be more paperwork for landlords and a process with “more steps” than there was before. The Landlord Tenant Legal Specialist may or may not be someone with knowledge and experience in these types of cases – patience and a willingness to “educate” that person about what he or she doesn’t know will be required. A consultation, at least, with an experienced attorney who will know the “new rules” will be the smart thing to do before going to Court