Virtually all residential landlords in New Jersey are required by law to register their apartments with the town in which the property is located. The only exception is when the owner of the apartment building lives in the building and there are less than three rental units in the building.
Further, all apartments must meet local zoning ordinances. While local zoning ordinances vary from town to town, illegal apartment zoning issues typically come up when a landlord rents out an attic, basement, or garage unit. Town ordinances are designed to maintain the health and welfare of the citizens and, as a result, illegal apartments typically also pose some significant health or safety risk. For instance, an attic unit may create a dangerous fire hazard if it does not have an accessible fire escape, while basement and garage units may fail to have the proper light or ventilation causing significant health concerns.
How do you know if you are in an illegal apartment? Many times tenants do not discover that their apartment is illegal until a town official tells them. However, in most cases a tenant suspicious of an illegal apartment can inquire with the local municipality’s zoning board. Some towns where illegal apartments are prevalent, such as Jersey City, even have websites where citizens can report suspected illegal apartments online.