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A Tenancy Without a Written Lease: What Does a Tenant Possess and How Much Does He/She Pay?

New Jersey residential tenancies exist in two forms. Those with a written lease and those without. Written leases are more desirable for the simple (and obvious reason) that the terms of the tenancy are defined. Oral tenancies generally lack defined terms (unless implied from conduct). This vagueness is problematic. Whether a landlord purchases a building with an existing oral tenancy or creates one, the problems remain the same. The central question is: How does one define the terms of an oral tenancy?

The road to defining an oral tenancy begins with the two most important terms: The space rented and the amount of the rent. Generally speaking, New Jersey landlord-tenant law requires that everyone pay rent for the space they occupy. This part is clear. “A party in possession in bound to pay for the use and occupation [of the premises].” Housing Authority of East Orange v. Leff, 125 N.J. Super. 425, 434 quoting Conover’s Ex’ers v. Conover, 1 N.J. Eq. 403 (Ch. 1831). At the very least, a tenant must pay for the space they occupy. Thus the two terms of the tenancy are hand-in-hand. The amount the tenant pays is necessary for the amount of the space the tenant occupies.
These two terms (the rent and the space) have an important practical component. A landlord who buys a building with an existing oral tenant may find the tenant behaving as if he/she owns the building. Some tenants take the absence of a written lease as a license to use basement or backyard for storage, putting garbage in the hallway and “claiming” other parts of the building for themselves. The underlying principle remains the same. A tenant must pay for the space they occupy even if this space is not typically considered part of an apartment. The Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-16.1 et. seq., (its arcane flaws aside) provides a roadmap for controlling these types of tenancies. Correct drafting and serving of the required notices go a long way to defining the terms of a tenancy. Landlords and tenants are benefit from this certainty.
Space and rent are not the only issues arising from oral tenancies. But, they are the most basic and fundamental to the landlord-tenant relationship. Offit Kurman LLC practices landlord tenant law throughout New Jersey assisting landlords and tenants in resolving disputes and avoiding unnecessary and costly delays. The firm’s geographic practice area includes: New Jersey (Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Hudson County, Newark, Essex County, Woodbridge, Middlesex County, Paterson, Passaic County, Bergen County). The Firm invites you to visit the “Promises” page for our new way of doing business.