Commercial landlords are occasionally confronted with a situation where one of their tenants is not abiding by the lease. Some commercial landlords feel that they can simply lock the tenant out of its space as result of any breach under the lease. This is not the case under New Jersey law. Any landlord who resorts to self help risks being sued by a tenant for any number of causes of action, including, but not limited to, wrongful eviction, trespass, and breach of contract.
Commercial landlords are well advised to obtain relief through the courts. New Jersey’s tenancy courts are set up for the expeditious handling of landlord/tenant claims. However, a landlord must pay close attention to the steps required by law before it may avail itself of the relief available in the tenancy court. If the tenant is not paying rent, then the landlord need not do anything other than file a complaint in the tenancy court and comply with any notice provisions that may be included in the lease. However, in some instances, the tenant is doing something other than not paying rent that constitutes a breach of a lease in the eyes of the landlord. In several of these instances, it is necessary for a landlord to serve the tenant with a Notice to Quit and Demand for Possession before it files a complaint in the tenancy court.
A Notice to Quit is a notice given by a landlord to a tenant which serves to terminate the tenancy between them. A Notice to Quit should include a “Demand for Possession” of the premises as well. This is critical in order for the New Jersey Superior Court to have jurisdiction to hear the dispossess case filed by the landlord. In addition, the lease must afford the landlord the right to re-enter the premises in the event of the tenant’s breach of the particular covenant at issue. A Notice to Quit is required in the following types of cases as a prerequisite to evicting a commercial tenant:
- Holdover: where the tenant stays in the premises after the lease expires on a month-to-month basis. A landlord must give a one month Notice to Quit to the tenant. If the tenancy is at will (no specified rental and no specified duration), or year to year, then three month’s notice is required.
- Disorderly Tenant: A three day Notice to Quit is required prior to filing suit.
- Willful Destruction of the Premises: A three day Notice to Quit is required prior to filing suit.
- Violation of Rules/Regulations Accepted in Writing: A three day Notice to Quit is required prior to filing suit.
- Breach of a Lease Covenant: A three day Notice to Quit is required prior to filing suit.
Once the Notice to Quit is served on the tenant, the landlord must then wait the requisite period of time before filing its complaint. Once the time expires, the landlord is then free to file its complaint and avail itself of the relief available to it in the courts.