When Should a Landlord Refuse Rents?
The issue of when to accept rents and when to refuse rents has long baffled New Jersey landlords and their attorneys. In this article, we will attempt to address most of the common questions that our clients have; however, the rules regarding acceptance of rents have many more nuances and intricacies than can be detailed in here this cursory article. If you have any specific questions regarding acceptance of rents, please call our office to schedule a consultation.
Rules for Acceptance of Rent in Non-Payment of Rent Cases
In the vast majority of cases in which the eviction is based upon non-payment of rent, the Statute allows for the acceptance of any and all rent payments up to entry of a Judgment for Possession. Put simply, the acceptance of a partial payment up to the date set for Court does not affect the status of the eviction matter. A partial payment by the tenant simply reduces the amount that the tenant would have to pay by the day of trial in order to avoid eviction. A tenant will then have up to 4:30 P.M. on the day of Court to pay to the landlord the balance owed. In the event that payment is not received in full by 4:30 P.M. on the day of Court, the Landlord will have a Judgment for Possession.
In the event that the landlord wishes to accept any rents after the entry of a Judgment for Possession, the landlord must have a written agreement with the tenant, and a copy of that agreement must be submitted to the Court. In most cases, the written agreement comes in the form prescribed by the New Jersey Rules of Court, and is executed by the parties in Court. But even after Court, the parties may still enter into an arrangement, so long as it is written and a copy is submitted to the Court. Absent a written agreement being submitted to the Court, acceptance of any rents, regardless of how little, after the entry of a Judgment for Possession, constitutes a waiver of the eviction action and renders the Judgment for Possession void. Similarly, in the event a Landlord orders a Warrant of Removal and then arranges with the tenant for payment of rents, an agreement must still be submitted to the Court.
Rules for Acceptance of Rent in Notice Cases
On some occasions, a landlord will be seeking to evict a tenant for reasons other than non-payment of rent. These evictions are commonly referred to as “Notice Cases.” As with non-payment of rent cases, acceptance of rent in a Notice Case after the entry of a Judgment for Possession voids the Judgment. However, landlords filing Notice matters should also be aware of one other scenario in which acceptance of rent can severely impact the eviction.
By way of background, in all cases in which the landlord is seeking to evict a tenant for reasons other than non-payment of rent, the landlord must first serve the tenant with a termination notice, referred to as a “Notice to Quit.” In some instances, the Notice to Quit must be preceded by a warning notice, called a “Notice to Cease.” The timing and the language of the Notices will vary greatly depending on the cause for eviction. But in all cases, the Notice to Quit will contain a date upon which the lease is considered to be “terminated.” Under the case law, a landlord may not accept any rents from the tenant after that specified date. Acceptance of rent after the date of termination will result in dismissal of the eviction unless there is a written agreement between the landlord and the tenant, in which the tenant has agreed that acceptance of rent shall not constitute a waiver of the Notice to Quit.
Acceptance of Rents vs. Receipt of Rents
Finally, we note that “Acceptance of Rents” is not the same as “Receipt of Rents.” In cases in which the landlord has already obtained a Judgment for Possession, or in cases in which the landlord has already terminated the tenancy by way of a Notice to Quit, it is not uncommon for the tenant to mail the landlord a check for the rent. The landlord, at that point, is obligated to return the rent check to the tenant, or he may be deemed to have accepted it.