Warrant of Seizure: New Jersey Statute based on 13th century English common law



Over a year ago, this company’s client, a business owner, was stuck in a worst-case scenario. Its commercial tenant, a semi-trailer refurbishment company, which stored nearly 700 trucks at the leased premises, had not paid rent for more than five months. Settlement talks came and went, and failed. On behalf of the client, we successfully filed a dispossession action in landlord-tenant court, and a removal warrant was issued against the tenant shortly thereafter. Great… but what about the 700 trucks still there? The tenant did not intend to move them. With the client nearly running out of options and feeling the financial pressure, we went to a New Jersey Chancellery court on a show cause order to seek a warrant of seizure under NJSA 2A: 33-1 to -23 (the “law on seizure and execution”). .

Under the Garnishment Act, a business owner can seize the property and furniture of a business tenant from the leased premises in a non-judicial procedure to satisfy up to one year of rent arrears. NJSA 2A: 33-1 to -23; Callen v. Sherman’s Inc., 92 NJ 114 (1983). Simply put, if a commercial tenant stops paying their rent, the landlord can physically seize certain assets on the property (here, semi-trailers) and auction them off to settle the rent arrears. The concept of owner’s garnishment dates back to the 13th century, where English feudal common law recognized it “as an exception to the principle that ‘self-help is an enemy of the law, a contempt for the king and his court.’ ” Callen, 92 NJ to 120. Here in New Jersey, owner’s garnishment is “a common law right, now regulated by statute”. Van Ness Indus. v. Claremont Painting & Decorating Co., 129 NJ Super. 507, 510 (Ch. Div. 1974). The “New Jersey statutes have provided for garnishment since 1795” and the current garnishment law “still has its feudal origins.” Callen to 121.

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