Updated February 2008
This bulletin provides basic information about the responsibilities of la ndlords and tenants for maintaining rental units. Many citizens of the Stat e reside in dwelling units that fail to meet minimum standards of safety and sanitation. Tenant s have a right to safe, sanitary and habitable housing in New Jersey. This bulletin is for info rmational purposes only and should not be used for legal interpretations or legal advice. Please c onsult an attorney for le gal services and advice when necessary.
Tenants have the right to safe, sanitary and decent housing. Residential leases carry an “implied warranty of habitability.” This means that a landlord has a duty to maintain the rental unit and keep it fit for residential purposes throughout the entire term of the lease and that the landlord must repair damage to vital facilities. The tenant is responsible for maintaining and returning the property to the landlord in the same condition that the tenant received it, except for normal wear and tear.
Note: Where damage has been ca used by malicious or abnormal use by the tenant, the tenant is responsible for the repair.
Reporting housing code violations
All buildings with three or more rental units must comply with the regulations for the Maintenance of Hotels and Multiple Dwellings and must be registered with the Bureau of Housing Inspection. The Bureau of Housing Inspection is the enforcement agency for housing code violations in buildings with three or more rental units. To file a complaint contact the Bureau of Housing Inspection at (609) 633-6241. Multiple dwelling units are required to be inspected every five years. One and two unit buildings do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Housing Inspection. One and two un it buildings that are not owner-occupied must comply with any applicable local ordinances and mu st register with the Clerk in the municipality in which the residential property is located. No registration is required for owner occupied two family houses. When the heating equipment in a residential unit fails and the landlord does not take appropriate action after rece iving proper notice from the tenant, the local board of health may act as agent for the landlord and order the repa irs to fix the equipment. Evictions cannot be filed unless the rental property is registered.
NOTE: THE LOCAL HEALTH AGENCY IN YOUR MUNICIPALITY SHOULD BE CALLED FOR LACK OF HEAT AND HOT WAT ER. LOCAL AGENCIES RESPONSIBLE FOR HOUSING INSPECTIONS SHOUL D BE CALLED FO R UNINHABITABLE STRUCTURAL CONDITIONS .
Remedies if the landlord fails to mainta in the property in a habitable condition
If the landlord does not keep the premises in a habitable co ndition, a tenant may repair any vital deficiencies and deduct the amount of the repair from the rent. The landlord’s failure to maintain the property could also lead to what is called a constructive evic tion by the tenant. (See below for explanation) The tenant may seek rent abatement (a reduction in rent) or withhold the rent or a portion of the rent.
Before applying the remedies of repair and deduct, constructi ve eviction, rent abatement or withholding the rent or a portion of the rent, the following must apply:
In the case of Park Hill Terrace v. Glennon, Mitnick, and Stoff, 146 N.J. Super. 68, the court held that air conditioning was a part of the orig inal tenancy and that its failure affected the habitability of the premises.
Note: Not every defect or incon venience is considered a breach of the warranty of habitability. Each case must be judged on it own facts. To avoid eviction, any rent withheld by the tenant should be saved and accessible in case the court requires the tenant to pay the outstanding rent.
In emergency situations created by the landlord or re sulting from his neg ligence, the landlord may be responsible to bear a tenant’s expens es in obtaining alternative housing during the emergency. Expenses may be deducted from the rent. However, the expenses must be reasonable.
From October 1 to May 1, the rental premises shall be maintained at a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between the hours of 6:00 a. m. and 11:00 p.m.; between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. the rental premises shall be maintained at a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water temperature should be maintained at a minimum of 120 degrees and a maximum of a 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Utility companies are prohibited from shutting o ff utilities in tenant-occupied buildings whose owners have failed to make payments, withou t first notifying the tenant of the impending disconnection. Before disconnecting utility services, the utility comp any must give the tenant an opportunity to agree to make future payments.
Interior walls, ceilings and other exposed surfaces in rental units must be kept smooth, clean, free of flaking, loose or peeling paint, plaster or paper and maintained in a sanitary condition. Painting or other protective coati ngs are the responsibility of the occupant, not the landlord when required more than once every three years, as a result of acts or om issions of the tenant. (Rental units are not required to be painted between tenants.)
Landlords of certain types of buildings must notify prospective tenant s of lead-based paint hazards in the dwelling they wish to rent and provide them with information about the identification and control of such hazards. If the dwelling was built before 1978, contains bedrooms and is to be rented for more than 100 days, the landlord must pr ovide tenants with an information pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home”. Also, the lease agreement must include a federal disclosure form about lead-based paint or lead based hazards in the property and any lead evaluation reports must be attached to the form. The landlord may be unaware of a lead hazard, however, that does not mean that one does not exist. A local board of health has the authority to order the removal of lead paint from the interior of a dwelling unit when it causes a danger to occupants.
Housing for the elderly or persons with disabilities are exempt fr om this disclosu re requirement unless a child under the age of six resides with such persons. For additional information and to order a copy of the pamphlet, contact the Na tional Lead Information Center at (800) 424- 5323(LEAD) or (800) 526-5456 for the hearing impai red. For bulk copies call (202) 512-1800. Requests can be faxed to (202) 659-1192. Inform ation can also be found on the HUD Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control website, which is: http://www.hud.gov/offices/lead/index.cfm.
Screens and window guards
Screens suited to protect the inte rior of the building ag ainst insects must be provided and kept in good repair for each exterior door, except exteri or doors which do not pr ovide ventilation. Screens shall also be provided, maintained and installed for each openable window in living and common areas. Screens are not required for units or common areas on the 6 th floor or above. Screens shall be provided from at least May 1 to October 1 of each year, where required.
The Hotel and Multiple Dwelling re gulations provide that upon wr itten request by a tenant of a unit in which a child 10 years of age or younger resides, the landlord mu st provide, install and maintain approved child protec tion window guards on the windows of the dwelling unit and on any accessible windows in the public halls. This requirement does not apply to windows which give access to a fire escape or which are located on the first fl oor. Nor does this requirement apply to owner-occupied units, condominiums or cooperatives.
Leases must contain a notice advi sing tenants that, upon written re quest by the tenant, the owner is required to provide, install and maintain wi ndow guards in dwelling units with children 10 years of age or younger. In addition, yearly written notices must be given to tenants informing them of the window guard regulation. Landlords are not required to offer window guards for first floor units. To purchase a copy of the regulations for the Maintenance of Hotels and Multiple Dwellings contact the Bureau of Housing Inspection, P.O. Box 810, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0810, or call (609) 633-6225 for more information.
HUD or subsidized housing
Housing code violations in federally subsid ized housing fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, New Jersey State Offi ce, 1 Newark Center Street, 12 th floor, Newark, New Jersey 07102-5260 or call (973) 622-7900.