Renter’s Rights in New Jersey: Habitability
Renter’s rights in New Jersey and habitability requirements. How the tenant-landlord relationship works when it comes to the habitability of the dwelling and what is required by each side. Also, what action can be taken if requirements are not met.
For renters rights in New Jersey and renter’s rights in general, understanding from a renter’s standpoint what determines habitability, or the conditions in which a residence is deemed suitable to live in, is incredibly important for one’s well being.
This is part three in a series of posts examining renter’s rights in New Jersey and looking into the Truth in Renting pamphlet published by the State of New Jersey. Part one focused on the lease, which can be found here, and part two focused on the rent, which can be found here. This part will focus on habitability, which includes what is required to make a property suitable for a renter to live in and what responsibility the landlord has to make the space livable for the renter. The series is meant to create awareness for both parties (the renter and landlord) on what the rights are when it comes to tenant-landlord relationships in New Jersey.
When it comes to tenant-landlord relationships there is accountability on each side, and this is no different for the habitability of the property. To ensure that the landlord is accessible and can be notified of any issues with the property in a reasonable amount of time, a landlord must register with their local municipality or with the state office depending on the number of units on the property. This registration must be posted somewhere in the residence and include the following information: owner of the property, corporate officers (if owner is a corporation), a representative of the owner in the same count (if owner does not live in same county as dwelling), managing agent, maintenance personnel, who to contact for emergencies and their phone number, and everyone that is on the mortgage for the property. It is also important to note that buildings heated by fuel oil must also have the fuel dealer’s contact information posted.
Accountability for the tenant comes into play with maintaining the property by doing regular housekeeping, reporting any issues immediately, and returning the property at the end of the lease agreement in the condition that it was received aside from normal wear and tear. It is also important to note that the lease may dictate additional responsibilities of the tenant such as yard maintenance.
By law the landlord is required to maintain certain levels of maintenance, safety, and health within the dwelling. This includes providing a clean, repaired, and infestation-free dwelling upon beginning of lease. The landlord must also provide smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the dwelling, which is to be verified by local fire officials who provide a certificate indicating the requirement has been met. Locks are also a requirement for the landlord to provide, but they must fit a certain guideline that includes a deadbolt. For renters, it is important to note that if the lock does not meet the state’s requirements it may not be insurable.
When it comes to heat, it is very important for the renter to understand what is to be provided to them. For buildings that are three or more units, the landlord must provide heat that can maintain at least 68 degrees from October 1st to May 1st during the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Outside of those hours it must be maintained at 65 degrees. Heating requirements for dwellings with less than three units are set by the local government. It is also possible that the lease can state that heat is the responsibility of the renter. It is also important for the renter to know that if the landlord is providing heat and has not paid the utilities, the tenant will be notified by the state and given the opportunity to make payments before the heat will be shut off.
Other requirements and disclosures include posting of water test results whether from public water source or private well water source, lead based paint disclosure, and notification if the property is considered to be in a flood zone.
What to Do if Landlord Does Not Meet Requirements?
If the landlord does not meet the above requirements and has been notified and given a reasonable amount of time to correct them, then the state can step in and take action to correct the issue if it pertains to heating or presence of lead paint. For other issues, the tenant can utilize what is called “repair and deduct” or “rent withholding,” meaning the tenant can have the repairs done and deduct the cost from future rent payments or they can withhold from paying their rent. If the landlord takes it to court for non-payment then the tenant must provide adequate proof of notification (certified mail is good for this) and proof of the defects.
The third part in this series on renter’s rights in New Jersey has been an overview of habitability as written out in the state of New Jersey’s Truth In Renting pamphlet. The next part of this series will focus on eviction and when this action can take place as well as for what reasons.
Please leave any questions, comments, or personal experiences on tenant-landlord relationships below.
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