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Arnold v. Serruto

A-1704-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LEASES; DAMAGES—Where a landlord evicts a tenant, but not wrongfully, the tenant has no claim against the landlord for allegedly resulting emotional and emotionally-related injuries.

A tenant lived in a cottage from 1989 to 1996 without a written lease, paying monthly rent. On November 1, 1995, the landlord notified the tenant that, because he was selling the property, the tenant would have to vacate on January 31, 1996. The tenant claimed that he vacated the premises by then, taking as many of his possessions as he could. Because of bad weather, however, many belongings remained until February or March, allegedly with the landlord’s knowledge and understanding. The tenant offered rent for this additional period, but the landlord refused it.

In November, 2001, the tenant sued the landlord to recover the damages he contended were the consequences of his alleged eviction. Specifically, he claimed the eviction caused a decline in his school grades, resulting in a heart attack and ulcers. The landlord moved for summary judgment, arguing that since this was only a month-to-month tenancy, it was terminable on thirty days’ notice. The landlord argued that, not only had more than the required notice been given, but the tenant was then permitted to stay rent-free until March 7, 1996. The tenant argued that he had waited to file his complaint because he was seeking alternative ways to resolve the matter before resorting to litigation.

The lower court granted the landlord’s motion for summary judgment. First, it held that there was no lease and thus either party was entitled to terminate upon notice. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, the landlord had the right to terminate because of his sales contract for the property. Also, the lower court concluded that the complaint was not filed within the personal injury two-year statute of limitations, rendering it untimely. The Court further concluded that the landlord’s termination of the tenant’s tenancy was proper and that the landlord had not engaged in any wrongful conduct. Additionally, it held that the tenant had not presented any proof that his damages were attributable to any alleged wrongful conduct.

On appeal, the Appellate Division held that since the landlord did not wrongfully evict the tenant, no damages could result from a wrongful eviction. It also found that the tenant failed to show a causal relationship between the landlord’s actions and his claimed injuries. Further, it agreed that the tenant’s complaint had been filed too late. The eviction was in November 1995 and the heart attack was in 1998. The complaint was not filed until November 2001. Though his ulcers were discovered on December 29, 1999 within two years of filing suit, the alleged eviction did not occur within that two-year period. Even if the suit had been timely, and had the alleged illnesses been related to eviction, the landlord did not wrongfully evict the tenant, and for that reason was entitled to have the suit dismissed

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