A New Law Awards Attorney Fees to New Jersey Residential Tenants
With the stated purpose of ensuring parity between landlords and tenants, a New Jersey law requires that when the lease gives the landlord a right to recover fees and expenses, a parallel implied covenant giving the same right to the tenant is to be read into the lease.
1. No fees allowed if no meritorious defense.
A tenant sued for unpaid rent, who pays up before judgment without asserting a meritorious defense does not get the benefit of the reciprocal fee provision.
2. The award is discretionary.
The award can include legal fees or expenses, or both, with expenses defined as encompassing court costs and witness expenses, but not travel, lost income or child care.
3. The law took effect on January 21, 2014 and applies to all residential leases signed on Feb. 1 and going forward.
Going forward, leases that provide for landlord fees and expense must now contain a boldface notice stating: “If the tenant is successful in any action or summary proceeding arising out of this lease, the tenant shall recover attorney’s fees or expenses or both from the landlord to the same extent the landlord is entitled to recover attorney’s fees or expenses, or both as provided in this lease.” The typeface must be at least 11 point and one size larger than the rest of the lease clause.