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 Touted as a major victory for New Jersey tenants, Governor Christie signed into law a bill that gives tenants the right to collect lawyer’s fees and costs from landlords when they are successful in court.

The rule applies if the landlord has reserved the same right in the lease. The new law applies to all leases entered into on or after February 1, 2014.

Prior to the enactment of the law, landlords could reserve the unilateral right to be compensated by tenants should the landlord prevail in any legal action.

According to Matt Shapiro, President of the membership-based New Jersey Tenants Organization (NJTO), this new law is the most important advance in tenants’ rights in many years. “New Jersey has some of the best tenants’ rights laws in the country, but, until now, not when it came to these unfair legal fees,” said Shapiro. “Nearly every lease in the state has one of these clauses giving the landlord the right to sue for legal fees and costs in addition to whatever else he’s suing for, but it’s been a one-way deal.”

The NJTO successfully argued that the  a one-way legal fees provisions could be intimidating to tenants, who had little bargaining power to change the terms of the lease agreement.

According to Shapiro, a major advantage of the new law is the requirement that landlords inform tenants of the requirement by using bold print in the same clause that gives the right to landlords to collect legal fees.

“Now tenants will finally have a fair shot at having their day in court,” Shapiro says.

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