A New Jersey appeals court ruled Tuesday that Gov. Phil Murphy didn’t overstep his authority when he issued an executive order last year allowing tenants to use their security deposits to pay rent.
The ruling rejected arguments by several businesses and individual landlords who argued Murphy wasn't authorized to issue the order in April 2020 and that their due process rights were violated.
In a tweet, Acting State Attorney General Andrew Bruck praised the ruling and said Murphy's executive order “supported renters and helped keep them in their homes.” The attorney general's office argued the case on behalf of Murphy, a Democrat; former attorney general Gurbir Grewal and state health commissioner Judy Persichilli, who also were named as defendants.
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Under Murphy's order, landlords were still entitled to reimbursement for expenses that would have been covered by a security deposit, and tenants were obligated to replenish the deposit in full if they renewed the lease.
In its 48-page ruling, the three-judge panel concluded that while the state's Emergency Health Powers Act didn't authorize Murphy to issue the order “because it was not directly related to the public health,” the Disaster Control Act — originally aimed at war emergencies but later expanded — did confer that authority.
The landlords argued that increasing tenants' rights while decreasing landlords' rights amounted to favoring the economic interests of one group of citizens over another, and that Murphy's order didn't fit under the Disaster Control Act.
Jared McClain, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based New Civil Liberties Alliance who argued on behalf of the landlords, said the ruling sets a dangerous precedent.
“No law or contract in New Jersey is safe now whenever the state faces an economic downturn,” McClain emailed in a statement. "For years to come, New Jersey governors can cite today’s decision to excuse their continued accumulation of power, to the detriment of civil rights and our constitutional structure.”