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Knowing how to report an illegal basement apartment in NJ is a crucial step for individuals who suspect these types of illegal rentals in the state.

If a rental is illegal, both the landlord and the tenant can be adversely affected by it. If you find yourself in this situation, those affected should immediately contact our New Jersey real estate law firm.



How Can I Report An Illegal Basement Apartment In NJ In 2024

To file a report or complaint about an illegal basement apartment in New Jersey, you must contact the Housing Inspection Office by phone or email. 

However, it should be noted that this New Jersey home inspection office does not have jurisdiction over buildings with one or two rental units. 

  • Therefore, one- and two-unit buildings that are not owner-occupied must comply with all applicable local ordinances.
  • Additionally, they have to be registered with the clerk of the municipality where the residential rental property is located.
  • Another option to report an illegal apartment is by contacting our attorney Carolina T. Curbelo. Carolina will help those affected to correctly navigate all these processes.
illegal room in new jersey basement

Is It Illegal To Rent A Basement In NJ?

Under state law, not all basement apartments are illegal. However, there are a wide variety of restrictions on the use of these for rental. 

An example is that if the certificate of occupancy in New Jersey states that there cannot be an apartment in that space, then the basement could be considered illegal. In addition, the owner will not have the right to collect rent for that property. 

As an extra fact, basements are usually the places where illegal apartments are most abundant in the state.

Characteristics Of An Illegal Basement In New Jersey

  • Lack of interior plumbing, kitchen or bathroom. In some cases, they do have these elements, but they are separated from each other. For example, the toilet, bathtub and shower are outside the apartment.
  • It does not have windows. It is very common that illegal apartments do not have windows, or that they are very small. 
  • It does not have its own electricity or gas meter. An example of this scenario is when the apartment uses the same meter as the lobby of the place.
  • The price. A great sign to detect that an apartment is illegal, is the price. If the price sounds too “good” to be true, it is probably illegal.

To rent an apartment in New Jersey, landlords must comply with all local safety and zoning or land use regulations to protect tenants.

For example, if a fire occurs, an apartment must have escape routes for the tenants. Therefore, is key to check the NJ smoke detector requirements and certificate.

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Zoning or land use in the state can be quite a complex issue to follow. Therefore, it is advised that you contact our experienced land use attorney in New Jersey.

How Do You Know If A Basement Apartment Is Illegal In New Jersey?

Possibly the vast majority of individuals who live in an illegal apartment in New Jersey are not aware of it. They are usually only discovered by a city official or law enforcement worker.

However, if you suspect that an apartment is illegal or zoned incorrectly, you should: 

  • Address the town hall to request a copy of:
    • The certificate of occupancy, or
    • The certificate of habitability of the property. 
  • See if the basement has an emergency exit. 
  • Notice if there are problems with electricity and ventilation.

Another method to check if the apartment is illegal is to contact us directly. Our experts will be able to tell tenants if the basement or apartment where you live is legal or not.

At Curbelo Law, our NJ landlord and tenant lawyer is ready to advise you on all kinds of legal complexities or disputes. 

Warranty Of Habitability For An Apartment For Rent

Landlords are required by law to keep their rental property in a safe and decent condition. This applies to all rental agreements, regardless of whether they are oral or written. 

The habitability warranty is based on common sense in exchange for rent payment. Therefore, the owner must ensure that the home is suitable for occupancy. As a result, the warranty of habitability requires good care of:

  • Ceiling.
  • Walls.
  • Windows.
  • Doors.
  • Heating systems.
  • Cold and hot water.
  • Gas.
  • Electricity.
  • Home appliances. For example, the stove, the refrigerator and others.

Similarly, it is also required to keep the rental apartment free of pests and provide security against crime. The latter requires that the place have locks on the doors and windows.

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In addition to learning more on how to report and illegal basement apartment in NJ you may be interested in learning how to become a landlord in NJ.

What If I Live In An Illegal NJ Apartment?

If you live in an illegal apartment, there would be certain legal consequences for the tenant. As is well known, in New Jersey, if a rental property is illegal, the rental agreement will be null and void.

It should be noted that in order to evict a tenant, a court action must first be filed. This action takes time and until the court orders the tenant to vacate, the tenant could remain in the rental property without paying.

In our recent blog on the eviction process in New Jersey, you will be able to learn about all this procedure in the state.

Can The Landlord Enter The Apartment Without Permission In NJ?

Landlords may not enter a rental apartment without the tenant’s permission or a judgment from the Superior Court of New Jersey. However, even having the legal authority to enter the apartment, they can only do so peacefully. 

Therefore, this means that if a landlord enters the rental apartment without proper permission, they would be trespassing. 

If you are facing or considering litigation and are looking for a good lawyer to resolve disputes, don’t worry, we can help you too. Our firm is staffed with a well-versed real estate litigation attorney in NJ who is an expert in the field.

How To Legalize A Basement Apartment In New Jersey?

Landlords who convert a garage, basement, or other space into an apartment must first get approval from the city or county. Therefore, regardless of whether a bedroom or a kitchen is offered in a basement, this space has to be habitable.

  • In addition, the rental unit must be built in accordance with city, county and state regulations. 
  • In the event that law enforcement officers find that the apartment is illegally occupied, the landlord will have to pay to relocate their tenant.
  • Additionally, the rental unit must be suitable for residential purposes during the entire term established in the lease. 

At our firm, you will be able to find an experienced residential real estate attorney NJ and the best commercial real estate lawyers in New Jersey. Our expert will help you legalize your property to comply with all established regulations.

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Requirements To Meet For A Residential Unit In New Jersey

Landlords are obligated to keep their rental property in the best possible condition. In addition, the unit must have:

  • Water and electricity service.
  • Enough heat.
  • Waterproofing to ensure that the property does not have leaks.

On top of that, the unit has to be free of asbestos, mold, and lead. 

Municipal Code Rules In New Jersey

If a homeowner modifies a basement or other type of space, the county or city zoning department may require zoning permits. 

A county or city ordinance may establish specific rules for certain types of spaces on real property.

Jersey City Rules For Basement Apartments

Jersey City maintains that basement space cannot be used as a habitable room or living unit. Additionally, the basement space may not be used as a dwelling unit bathroom, guest house, or boarding house. 

However, the basement space can be used as a habitable room if:

  • Floors and walls are insulated against moisture.
  • All boilers or other installations for heating are separated from living areas by fireproof walls or partitions. 
  • Floors and walls are impervious to ground and surface water. Therefore, they must prevent seepage into the unit.
  • The total area of ​​openable windows in each room is equal to the minimum required by the city. As a result, they must be located completely above the ground level adjoining the area where the window is.
  • There is a second means of egress. For example, a second door located independently of the first and leading directly outside. It may also be an operable egress window not more than 3 feet above grade.
  • Has no pipes, ducts, or other obstructions less than 6 feet 6 inches above ground level.

Newark Basement Apartment Rules

Newark code states that a basement may be used for cooking, eating, and sleeping if:

  • There is an available exit to the outside of the apartment, either from the dwelling unit or the housing unit. This can be done by means of two accessible doors.
  • There is a spike-proof partition or wall that completely separates any furnace or furnace unit from the rental unit.
  • All applicable requirements of city, state hotel ordinances, and multiple dwelling laws are met.

Similarly, it is required that gas-burning appliances may not be installed and operated in any room used for sleeping. There is an exception to this rule, to find out, we invite you to contact our lawyer.

New Jersey State Requirements

The state mandates that new construction structures have a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet for habitable space. 

Also, new basements containing living space may have joists, ducts, or other obstructions that show within 6 feet 4 inches of the floor.

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Are you about to remodel your home in the state? Maybe adding a deck is right for you. Check our blog “How much value does a deck add to a house” for more information on this topic.

What Options Does A Tenant Have If They Live In An Illegal Basement Apartment?

An illegal basement apartment in a space that is uninhabitable or that does not meet the requirements of state law and county or city ordinances and thefeore, you have several options to choose from:

  • Seek a reduction in rent.
  • Withhold rent until the landlord makes the required repairs.
  • Notify the local building or health inspector about the landlord.
  • Break the lease and sue your landlord for illegally renting an apartment in small claims court. If the tenant wins, the owner will have to pay for repairs and damages in relation to the habitability of the rented unit.
  • Make the repairs and deduct the cost from the next month’s rent after giving your landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem.

Have you ever heard or read that time is of the essence in real estate? If this term appears in a real estate contract, we recommend that you contact us to provide you with adequate advice.

Sanctions For Renting Uninhabitable Apartments

The penalty for renting an uninhabitable unit or space varies depending on the landlord’s violation. A very common example is that the heating equipment does not work. 

In these cases, if the landlord does not fix the problem after being notified by the tenant, the local board of health can order repairs to fix the equipment. 

Tenants of an uninhabitable unit who choose to break the lease and experience constructive eviction can sue the landlord. This lawsuit can be in a civil court for damages that include:

  • Moving cost.
  • Cost of repairs the tenant made or tried to make to bring the unit up to state and local standards.
  • Damages for emotional distress caused by the owner.
  • Difference in rent between the property the tenant vacated and the new property the tenant moved into.

It should be noted that New Jersey prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants, whether for reporting, requesting repairs, or filing a lawsuit.

How Our Law Firm Can Help You Report An Illegal Basement Apartment In NJ

We hope this blog on how to report an illegal basement apartment in NJ has been helpful to our readers. The reality is that navigating this process on your own can be a difficult task.

  • Therefore, we advise individuals to contact us immediately if in the midst of this situation. 
  • Our lawyer Carolina has extensive experience dealing with these real estate matters.
  • Thanks to Curbelo Law, those affected by illegal renting in New Jersey are not alone, since they have our advice. 

We invite you to contact us through our telephone number, E-Mail or by scheduling an appointment with the office, located in Ridgewood, New Jersey.