By Jennifer L. Alexander, Esq.
As a residential landlord, it’s important to understand that New Jersey statutory law grants tenants (in very limited circumstances) the option of prematurely terminating their lease without having to incur the normal penalties of vacating a lease early.
Fortunately, residential landlords in New Jersey are not completely at the mercy of their tenants in such situations. Tenants must satisfy a strict set of requirements in order to qualify for premature lease termination. In many cases, a tenant or their successors may attempt to avoid penalties by vacating the lease early and claiming that they qualify for one of the statutory exceptions, but the facts simply do not support their assertion.
Let’s take a look at two critical statutory exceptions that allow a tenant to end their lease prematurely: death, and moving to a nursing home. Before we evaluate these statutory exceptions, however, it’s worth noting that in both situations — death and transition to a nursing home — a tenant may qualify by virtue of their spouse. It is not necessary for the “tenant” have directly suffered the harms at-issue, so if your tenant has brought the issue of premature termination to your attention, do not be dismissive.
Premature Lease Termination Following a Death
Section 46:8-9.1 of the New Jersey Statutes governs premature lease termination in the event of death. In accordance with the statute, a residential lease may be terminated prematurely if the tenant (or the tenant’s spouse) have died. If any other person has died, the tenant is not entitled to prematurely vacate — even if the deceased provided consistent financial support to the tenant.
As the landlord, be aware of the procedural requirements imposed on the tenant (and their successors). The lease will legally terminate only if the tenant, surviving spouse, or executor/administrator of the estate have given you proper written notice of their intention to terminate the lease early. Possession of the property will be turned over to you 35 days after you have received their written notice, and the lease will terminate 5 days after that. On the day the lease terminates, rent is due. If the tenant (or their successors) attempt to vacate early without paying the remaining due rent, you may pursue them for damages.
Premature Lease Termination for a Tenant Moving to a Nursing Home
Section 46:8-9.2(b) governs premature lease termination in the event of a transition to a nursing home. More specifically, if the tenant or their spouse (or both) are entitled to end their lease early if they can show that:
1. they have been accepted into an assisted living facility, nursing home, or continuing care retirement community;
2. they are at least 62 years old; and
3. they are in need of the services provided by such facilities.
Only the individual who has been accepted into the assisting living facility, nursing home, or continuing care retirement community need be 62 years old (or older). For example, if the tenant’s wife is 62 years old (and has been accepted into a nursing home), and the tenant is 60 years old, then the tenant may still be entitled to terminate their lease early.
You should not rely on the tenant’s assurances that they have been accepted into an assisted living facility, nursing home, or continuing care retirement community — they must give you written termination of the lease and documentation that demonstrates they have been formally accepted into the facility at-issue. If they cannot provide such documentation, then they are not entitled to prematurely vacate without penalty, and you may pursue damages.
Critically, they must also be able to show that they are in need of the services provided by the facility at-issue. In order to do so, they will have to present the certification of a treating physician that confirms such need.
Consult With a New Jersey Landlord-Tenant Lawyer for Further Guidance
If your tenant has died, or is looking to vacate the premises and move to a nursing home, then you may find yourself in a difficult situation with regard to the termination of the lease — but it’s important to remember that you are not necessarily without options. Tenants and their successors must meet strict requirements and follow careful procedures in order to successfully terminate the lease (without invoking a penalty). Failure to satisfy various statutory requirements could give you an opportunity to secure damages for the lease termination.
Jennifer L. Alexander, Esq. is a Partner with the firm of Griffin Alexander, P.C., the primary practice area of our firm is residential landlord-tenant law in New Jersey (as well as New York and Pennsylvania). We have decades of experience representing both corporate and individual landlords in a range of disputes, including those that involve the premature termination of a lease in the event of death, or a premature termination of a lease due to a nursing home transition. Our attorneys have successfully resolved numerous disputes in favor of our clients, and — having developed the specialized know-how necessary to navigate New Jersey landlord tenant law — are capable of handling complicated disputes involving state and/or federal law. Call (973) 366-1188 to get connected.