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Can I really sue my landlord for renting an illegal apartment? It is a recurring question in our office and here we will give you all the keys about it.

The rental of a house requires that the lease be free of all types of charges and conflicts. Therefore, our NJ real estate attorney stands ready to help her clients complete this process in the state.

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Can I Sue My Landlord For Renting An illegal Apartment In New Jersey In 2024?

The short answer is yes, a landlord can be sued. This is because all residential property owners in New Jersey are required by law to register their property. Not doing so would be breaking the law. 

  • Therefore, landlords who convert their attics, basements, or other space into apartments for rent without registration are committing an illegal act.
  • In addition, landlords who rent out rooms to different individuals without first getting the proper approvals are also breaking the law.
  • As a result, all apartments are required to comply with state-enforced local zoning ordinances.
  • Either way, if any illegal tenancy is discovered, it is critical that the tenants be relocated. This is to protect your safety, health and life.
  • Owners of illegal apartments will be held accountable to the state by paying fines, compensating their tenants, and in some cases, jail time.
  • The compensation to the tenants is due to the fact that the tenants will be forced to move due to the violation of the law by the landlords.

In conclusion, a tenant in an illegal property may be entitled to relocation expenses, as long as the landlord tries to evict them due to illegal occupancy.

landlord tenant lawyer nj

In any case, if you are going through this situation, it is best to contact our attorney Carolina T. Curbelo . Additionally, our expert is an specialized landlord tenant lawyer in NJ prepared to assist you in such matters.

Is There Another Option Besides Suing My Landlord?

In certain scenarios, there are other options besides a lawsuit. For example:

  1. Talk to the landlord about the problem: Sometimes the landlord may not be aware of the problems that are present, so talking about it could solve the problems.
  2. Writing a demand letter: If you’ve spoken to your landlord without any success, it’s time to file a demand letter. 
    • This letter should explain the problem and the impacts to the tenant.
    • Efforts to resolve the problem and the intent to take legal action if they are not resolved should also be addressed.

Litigation can appear in some real estate matters, so it is essential to have professional help in these aspects. At Curbelo Law you will find an experienced real estate litigation attorney in New Jersey expert in this matter. 

What Is An Illegal Unit?

An illegal unit, also known as an “illegal tenancy,” is a rental unit used for residential purposes that has not been legally established in the municipality. An example of an illegal unit is as follows:

  1. A landlord rents residential space to a tenant.
  2. This space is not legally considered a residential space, since it is a shed or a garage.
  3. Additionally, the owners never registered their property with the municipality to be rented.
illegal apartment bathroom in new jersey

Illegal units are all those that will be used for residential purposes that are not registered with the local authorities. Furthermore, when an individual occupies this type of unit as a residence, it will be considered illegal possession.

Individuals can determine if a property is illegal or legal by searching the public records of the municipality. This may be through a New Jersey home inspection department or agency.

Our clients are in the best possible hands with us, as the firm is staffed with an experienced NJ residential real estate attorneys. Additionally, Carolina is a reputable commercial real estate attorney in NJ.

Elements To Consider Before Renting An Illegal Unit

Owners who rent an illegal unit will expose themselves to substantial liability. This includes the following:

  • Insurance will not be available. The insurance may not be willing to pay for damages caused by the tenant to the property or for injuries suffered by the tenant.
  • Relocation liability. The owner will be responsible for paying for the relocation of their tenant.
  • Possible sanctions. Most likely, the owner will be fined for violating local zoning requirements.
  • Eviction liability. The landlord will be required to evict the tenant from the illegal unit. If this is the case, the tenant will have the right to sue the landlord for violating the terms of the rental agreement.

Being a landlord in the Garden State is a complex subject, since there are many steps to follow. In our blog “How to Become a Landlord in New Jersey”, we explain this topic in great detail.

What Happens If An Apartment Is Rented Illegally In NJ?

Generally, if a property is illegal, the tenant will have to move out of the property. Because of this, it is important that the tenant check with the zoning or land use authority to find out if the property is illegal and what the legal consequences are for the tenant.

Do you have land use problems? Don’t panic, our land use attorney in New Jersey is ready to advise you in these scenarios.

  • In New Jersey, the lease will be null and void in the case of an illegal lease. 
  • This means that the tenant’s obligation to pay rent for the property would be null and void. Of course, if a tenant stops paying rent, the landlord could evict them from the property.
  • However, in New Jersey, the tenant will have to pay the tenant an amount of money equal to 6 times the monthly rent. This payment is to help the tenant move into a new property.

NJSA 2A:18-61.1g(3) allows landlords to evict tenants when landlords seek to correct illegal property. This is because they have been cited by local or state home inspectors.

certificate of occupancy in new jersey

So, what happens if a property is rented illegally? Well, the lease is considered void and if there is no certificate of occupancy in New Jersey, the owner will not have the right to collect rent from the tenant.

Possible Signs That The Apartment Is Illegal

Some possible signs that the apartment is illegal include:

  • It is a basement or an attic. The vast majority of illegal apartments are usually very small spaces, such as a basement or attic.
  • The rent is a room. In some cases, if you are in a house where you share a bathroom or other area with strangers, it may be an illegal apartment.
  • The door has no lock.
  • You are denied rental assistance. If the tenant asks the landlord to sign an application for assistance and the landlord refuses, it may not be a legal site.
  • There are small windows. The apartment may not be legal if the windows are too small to escape through, or if the place does not have any.
  • Strange payment arrangements. The landlord asks for dubious payment arrangements, such as accepting only cash.
  • Utilities are included with the rent. If so, landlords may not want tenants to have their own account, since you can leave a paper record.
  • The design is unusual. For example, the bathroom is on a different floor or the unit does not have a kitchen.
  • There are no leases. The landlord can refuse to write or sign a written lease if the unit is illegal. 

During the foreclosure crisis, a large number of individuals decided to purchase foreclosed homes in New Jersey. Because of this, a tenant may not be aware of this unless he sees it on:

  1. The certificate of occupancy.
  2. The NJ property deed , or 
  3. The real estate title.

Are you facing a foreclosure? Don’t worry, our expert is a well-versed NJ foreclosure lawyer.

How Do I Report Illegal Renting In NJ?

To file a complaint about illegal renting, you can contact our real estate attorney or the Housing Inspection Office. The latter can be done via the following link to their website.

All properties in New Jersey with three or more rental units must comply with the multiple dwelling and hotel maintenance regulations. In addition, they have to be registered with the Housing Inspection Office.

If this situation arises, it is best to contact our attorney if you are discovered or suspected of living on illegal property.

illegal apartment rental in new jersey

Why Can I Sue My Landlord In New Jersey?

In New Jersey, landlords will have 30 days after their tenant has moved into a new property to return their security deposit. In addition, landlords must also provide an itemized list of any money withheld. 

However, landlords will only have 5 days to return the deposit and the list of details to the tenant if the following scenarios occur:

  1. An expropriation. Contact our NJ eminent domain attorney for guidance on these cases.
  2. A flood. For these cases, it is important to always have flood insurance in New Jersey.
  3. A fire. Properties must have a fire certificate to prevent these disasters. Find out more about the NJ smoke detector requirements and certificate.
  4. An eviction. To know this case specifically, it is important to understand the eviction process in New Jersey .

In either case, after a set period of time has passed without receiving a security deposit or only part of it, it is time to file a lawsuit. 

Security Deposit Considerations

It should be noted that in New Jersey, landlords can use security deposits to cover some costs. For example:

  • Repair damage caused by the tenant. As a general rule, damage must go beyond normal use.
  • Pay utility bills or other financial obligations under the lease. This occurs when there is unpaid rent by the tenant.
  • Repair any changes made to the lease. For example, the installation of a curtain rod.
  • Clean the rental unit to the level of cleanliness that existed when the tenant moved in.

Tenants should be aware of this, as there are unscrupulous landlords who may falsify the inspection. Therefore, tenants must take photos or videos to prove the condition of the rental unit the same day they move in.

If after the trial period, the landlord refuses to return the deposit or has taken money unreasonably, the tenant can take them to court. 

The amount of money must be less than $5,000 to sue the owner in small claims court.

rented apartment security deposit

Is It Possible To Evict An Apartment With An Illegal Rent?

Unless ordered by a court, a tenant cannot be evicted even if the place where they live is an illegal apartment. 

  • If a landlord tries to evict their tenant because they were cited by home inspectors for illegally renting an apartment, the tenant has the right to file a complaint.
  • This complaint can be filed in the landlord-tenant division of the Superior Court. The complaint will be regarding possession of the illegal unit.
  • Also, before the tenant is evicted, the landlord has to pay the tenant the equivalent of 6 months. Such payment must be paid at least 5 days before the court orders the lockout to remove the tenant.

The relocation reimbursement could not be offset by any amounts which the landlord alleges that the tenant owes in rent.

New Jersey Supreme Court, case Miah v. Ahmed, 179 NJ 511.

As a result of this, if the landlord sues the tenant for non-payment and the tenant later discovers that the apartment is illegal, the tenant can file an illegal occupancy defense. However, he must prove that the apartment is illegal.

If so, the tenant will retain their rights to relocation expenses before the apartment is closed.

Reasons Why I Can Sue My Landlord For Renting An Illegal Apartment

There are many legal reasons to sue a landlord, including the following:

  • Security deposit violation: For example, the landlord charges more than the law allows or illegally keeps the deposit at the end of the tenancy.
  • Discrimination: The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on religion, gender, race, familial status, or national origin.
  • Wrongful eviction: Without a court order, landlords cannot physically evict the tenant. They also won’t be able to shut off your utilities, plus it’s illegal for your landlord to take matters into their own hands.
  • Injury caused by the landlord’s negligence: If the tenant is injured because the landlord was careless with the repairs, you may be able to file a claim for damages received.
  • Refund: If the tenant made repairs because the landlord didn’t, and then the landlord refuses to refund the money, you may be able to file a lawsuit in small claims court.
  • Illegal clauses in the rental contract: There are certain provisions that cannot be legally included in the contract. For example, for the landlord to evict the tenant at will or prohibit service animals.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding How To Sue My Landlord For Renting An Illegal Apartment

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit or bond is an amount of money that a landlord receives from their tenants at the beginning of the lease. This deposit is used to offset the costs of repairing unreasonable damage caused by the tenant to the property.

What should I do if I find out that I am living in an illegal apartment?

Renters upon learning that they are living in an illegal unit should immediately start looking for a new place to live. Tenant may require relocation assistance.

What can I do to find out that I am living in an illegal apartment?

In most cases, tenants do not find out that the apartment is illegal until a city official reports it. Some cities, such as Jersey City, have websites where renters report their suspected illegal units online.

Do I Need A Lawyer To Sue My Landlord For Renting An illegal Apartment?

It is definitely better to have a lawyer to sue your landlord for renting an illegal apartment.

  • It is essential to have the assistance of a lawyer for any type of conflicts related to illegal tenancy. 
  • Owners should also consult with their attorney to get advice on local laws to legalize their unit.
  • Of course, in most cases, not renting an illegal unit is probably the best possible practice. However, having a lawyer can help you make the best decisions in these scenarios.

Call, E-mail, or schedule an appointment in advance at our office, located in Ridgewood, New Jersey, today. Our attorney has more than 10 years of experience handling these real estate matters in the state. 

FULL LEGAL REPRESENTATION AND COUNSELING

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