Many times I have been approached by a landlord who wants to evict residential tenants from the premises because the lease has “expired.” The first questions I ask are: 1) whether the landlord lives in the premises, and 2) whether the premises contain no more than two rental units (in addition to the landlord’s unit). If the answer to these questions is “No,” then I give the landlord the bad news: he can’t just “kick out” the tenants, even though the lease term has “expired.”
Other than tenants who live in premises where the landlord resides and there are no more than two additional rental units, residential tenants in New Jersey enjoy substantial protection under the Anti-Eviction Act. The Legislature passed the Act in order to protect residential tenants whom it found had frequently been unfairly and arbitrarily ousted from housing quarters in which they had caused no problems. Citing the “critical shortage of rental housing space in New Jersey,” the Legislature sought to limit the eviction of tenants by landlords to reasonable grounds and provide that suitable notice be given to tenants when an action for eviction is instituted by the landlord.
Thus, the Act prohibits a landlord from evicting tenants other than for one of the “good cause” reasons listed in the Act. The mere expiration of the lease is not a reason to evict tenants under the Act. The lease simply continues in force and effect, with the only change being that the lease renews automatically on a month-to-month basis. Thus, tenants protected under the Act have a virtual option of a lease for life, so long as none of the grounds for eviction under the Act is available to the landlord.
A landlord may, however, upon expiration of the old lease, offer tenants a new lease with “reasonable changes” in the lease terms. If the tenants refuse to accept the terms, or fail to pay rent after a reasonable increase, the landlord may seek to evict them in accordance with the Act. In order to evict tenants for refusal to accept reasonable changes in the lease, the landlord must first serve them with a 30 day notice to quit and demand for possession. If, however, the tenants simply fail to pay the rent after a reasonable increase, the landlord may file an eviction action without the need for a notice to quit.
So, if the tenants are protected by the Act, they can’t be evicted simply because the lease expired. However, a new lease with reasonable terms and reasonable rental increases may be presented to the tenants as a means of some protection to the landlord.
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