Law360 (December 16, 2020, 4:43 PM EST) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his cabinet were hit with a lawsuit Tuesday by a group of landlords challenging his executive order allowing tenants to use their security deposits to cover back rent during the COVID-19 crisis. The lawsuit contends the governor does not have the right to meddle in private contracts.

In a state court complaint filed in Cumberland County, the landlords said Executive Order 128, signed in April, illegitimately waived laws governing the security deposits that protect rental owners against the risk of damage and was unveiled without the consent of the contracting parties or state legislature. Murphy abused his power, the complaint said, by interfering with contractual rights and obligations of private citizens.

The landlords made clear the issue is not one of agreement or disagreement about the effectiveness of Murphy’s pandemic policies but rather one of the Constitution and separation of powers.

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