Over a year has passed since Governor Murphy declared a State of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As expected, the pandemic has slowed litigation in the New Jersey courts, with no part of the judiciary impacted more than the landlord-tenant court. Tens of thousands of cases remain backlogged, and with no restart announced and no plan yet in place to deal with that backlog, a return to normalcy in the eviction process likely remains in the distant future. Commercial landlords are eager to remove non-paying tenants in order for their properties to once again become revenue generators. Do these landlords have a viable self-help option under New Jersey law?
The Court Backlog
On March 14, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court authorized the temporary suspension of all landlord-tenant trials (both residential and commercial) as of March 16, 2020. Two weeks later, it extended that suspension through April 26, 2020. In subsequent orders, the suspension of all proceedings has been continued “until further notice.” On March 19, 2020, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order No. 106 (“EO 106”), which halted lockouts of residential tenants until two months after the State of Emergency ended. EO 106 did not bar lockouts of commercial tenants. Nevertheless, with landlord-tenant court suspended, there is no practical way for a commercial landlord to obtain the judgment of possession and warrant of removal necessary to have a lockout effectuated through the judicial system.