Landlord/Tenant Court is a Court of limited jurisdiction, which is limited to awarding possession of premises, whether residential or commercial, to a landlord. A successful action does not award any money. Therefore, in the event back rent is owed, a separate action must be filed. When dealing with a residential tenancy, it is often said that a tenant has a lifetime lease. Absent eviction for cause, a residential tenant can remain in the premises as long as they wish. There are thirteen statutory grounds for residential eviction.
The grounds range from the failure to pay rent to the apartment being converted to a condominium. Depending on the grounds for possession there are various requirements, prior to bringing suit, such as Notices to Cease and Notices to Quit. A full exploration of these requirements is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is important to know that it is imperative that the statute be fully complied with.
A commercial eviction action is a simpler process. It is easier to evict a commercial tenant, as commercial landlords do not need good cause in order to refuse to renew a lease. Again Notices to Quit and written demands for possession may be required prior to institution of an action for possession in a commercial tenancy.
Once filed, Landlord/Tenant actions are heard quickly. Service of the Summons and Complaint is accomplished by the Court, via the Constable, and the matter is usually heard within a month of filing. A tenant does not file an Answer to the Complaint but appears and states his or her defenses at trial, which is held before a Judge not a jury. On the trial date, the Court will attempt to settle the matter prior to the hearing.
In a non-payment of rent cases, which are the most common, if a residential tenant pays all back rent, with costs, at any time up until the time of trial, the tenant will retain the right to remain in possession. It must always be remembered that Landlord/Tenant Law favors the tenant. In a commercial tenancy, assuming non-payment of rent, a favorable settlement would be that the tenant pay the rent over time and that the landlord would have the right to a Consent Judgment of Possession without further Court action.
There are many areas not covered here including, but not limited to: constructive eviction; various defenses to an eviction action; breach by a landlord; bankruptcy; and default. Landlord/Tenant Court presents many potential pitfalls. Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, it is recommended that you consult legal counsel.
Darrell M. Felsenstein is an associate at WJ&L, LLP who practices in the litigation, business and corporate areas.