The widespread unemployment caused by the economic disruption of the pandemic and related lockdowns has caused thousands of New Jersey residential tenants, by some estimates more than 400,000, to fall behind in their rent. At the outset of the pandemic last year, Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 106 decreed a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. It has been extended from time to time but, without further extension, will currently expire on July 15, 2021. At that point, a tidal wave of eviction cases for nonpayment is expected to engulf New Jersey’s courts. There are already more than 58,000 pending, and the Department of Community Affairs estimates that more than 191,000 more may be filed. Tenant advocates are predicting an “eviction tsunami.”

These evictions will cause tremendous individual hardship. We also think that, on a macro scale, they are an exercise in futility. While some evicted tenants may fall into homelessness, we expect that many others will simply move to other apartments. The economic logic of eviction for nonpayment is that, by recovering possession, the landlord can replace a nonpaying tenant with a paying one. In normal times, that may well be true. In the aftermath of the pandemic, though, it appears to us that landlords will be removing tenants who haven’t been able to pay them, only to replace them with new tenants who were evicted because they couldn’t pay some other landlord. Such churning of the poor, working and lower middle class tenant population will create much confusion and suffering, as well as a burden on the courts, without collecting the unpaid rent the landlords are concededly owed. We believe there is a solution, but it requires the Legislature to act.