• Anatomy Of A Tenancy Trial
  • February 25, 2015 | Author: Timothy P. McKeown
  • Law Firm: Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A. A Professional Corporation - Bridgewater Office
  • If you are a commercial landlord, then chances are you have a relatively good relationship with your tenants. However, there are instances where a landlord and one of the tenants fall into a toxic relationship, or the tenant simply runs into financial difficulties resulting in nonpayment of rent, forcing the landlord to file an eviction action.

    What can a landlord expect to have happen at the trial?

    Before going to court, of course, the landlord will need to be fully prepared. That means compiling all of the documents or exhibits needed to prove the case against the tenant, including the lease, any correspondence, any notices required pursuant to the lease, and any invoices and the like.

    On the date of the trial, the landlord will need to appear in court represented by an attorney (assuming it’s a corporate entity or a limited liability company), along with any witness or witnesses the landlord intends to present. The clerk will call the list of cases on for that particular day. If the tenant fails to appear, a default judgment for possession will be entered by the clerk. The landlord may then request the issuance of a warrant of removal allowing the constable to proceed with a lockout.

    If the tenant appears at the trial, the court may order the parties to mediation. Mediators are usually present to assist the parties in trying to reach a settlement. Also, the parties may try to reach a settlement on their own before seeing a judge. If the landlord and tenant reach a settlement, the terms of the settlement may be placed on the record in front of the judge, and the parties are then free to leave.

    If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the case will ultimately be tried in front of the judge. In some instances, the parties may have to return to court in the event a judge is not available to hear the parties on that particular day. These sorts of unknowns provide a great incentive for the parties to try and reach a mutually agreeable settlement if at all possible. If the case is tried, the landlord must be ready to present its proofs and undergo cross-examination by the tenant. Usually, the issues are fairly straightforward if the case is a nonpayment of rent case. If, however, the case involves a covenant breach, then particular attention must be paid to the proofs the landlord intends to submit to the court. Keep in mind, courts abhor forfeiture in New Jersey, even in commercial situations, and are hesitant, absent sufficient proof, to oust a tenant from its leasehold interest.

    At the time of trial, the landlord is obligated to go first. The landlord will present oral testimony together with documentary evidence, including the lease, ledger sheets, invoices, history of rent payments and the like. If the landlord has a summary of any rent payments due, that would be very helpful to the court. Regarding the items the landlord may claim as rent, attorney’s fees cannot be claimed unless the lease specifically categorizes attorney’s fees as additional rent.

    The tenant will have an opportunity to cross-examine the landlord and the landlord’s witnesses. The judge may also have questions for the landlord. Keep in mind that there is no jury, and that the judge is the finder of fact in these types of cases. The same process is employed when the tenant is testifying.

    Once both parties have put in their case, the judge may allow for summations by each side. In most instances, the court will render its decision after the parties have summed up. However, if the proofs are lengthy or a bit involved, the court may reserve decision- that is, make a decision on the record at a later date.