In New Jersey, as with nearly every state, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant in response to that tenant’s exercise of a legal right.
The statutory prohibition against a landlord’s reprisal/retaliation of a tenant is enshrined in the New Jersey Statutes sections 2A:42-10.10 and 2A:42-10.12. These statutes specifically prohibit a landlord from serving a notice to quit upon any tenant, altering the terms of the tenancy without cause, or instituting any action against a tenant to recover possession of the premises in response to the exercise of various legal rights by said tenant.
As a landlord, if you have taken action against your tenant in retaliation for an earlier complaint about a condition on the property (or otherwise), then your tenant may have a reasonable basis to sue.
Which legal rights are protected?
Under the law, New Jersey tenants are entitled to: a) complain in good faith to a governmental authority (including agents such as an inspector employed by the government) and to the landlord regarding potential issues with living conditions and health and safety hazards in violation of the law; b) coordinate with other tenants to address property concerns; c) refuse to pay rent in situations regarding uninhabitable living conditions, or refuse to vacate the premises when the law allows for such actions; and d) take any action to secure the rights contemplated by their tenancy contract.
Landlord activities that fall under the category of “retaliatory acts” are varied, and includes termination of the tenancy, refusal to renew the lease, filing an eviction lawsuit, and any activity that alters the terms of the tenancy agreement (such as increasing rent, and prohibiting or otherwise limiting access to amenities and other services on the premises).
If a tenant files a lawsuit against you for retaliation, then the burden of proof lies with you to demonstrate that any actions taken either did not occur, or were not intended as a response to the tenant’s exercise of a covered legal right. In the event that the court finds that you have taken retaliatory actions against a tenant, then you may be liable for damages and the tenant may be entitled to various non-economic, equitable remedies (such as a renewal of their lease).
Dealing with the complications of landlord retaliation issues can be an overwhelming experience. You’ll want the services of a skilled landlord-tenant lawyer in NJ. Let the attorneys at Griffin Alexander, P.C. assist you today.
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