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Bandler v. Renaissance Terrace LLC

A-3303-02T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LEASES; SECURITY DEPOSITS—A landlord is required to return any remaining security deposit to the tenant named on the lease and is not required to return the money to the actual occupant of the premises even thought the occupant claims to be the real tenant.

Former occupants of an apartment, leased for them by their parents, attempted to get the security deposit returned. They contended that there was a factual dispute as to who were the true tenants and that the landlord should have been estopped from claiming that their parents were the true tenants. In support of their claim, they alleged that they, not their parents, took possession of the apartment, took the keys, and paid the rent before they vacated. They also claimed that they had an oral lease with the landlord, entitling them to the security deposit. Finally, they claimed that the lease between the landlord and their parents was never in effect since their parents never paid the security deposit themselves; never received keys for the apartment; never took possession of the apartment; never occupied the apartment; and never paid rent to the landlord.

The lower court concluded that the landlord properly returned the security deposit to the parents, as the tenants named on the lease, and that payment directly to the children would have exposed the landlord to liability to the parents. The Appellate Division agreed with the lower court, holding that it was up to the occupants and their parents to straighten out who was entitled to the money. The key fact was that the parents were the named tenants.

In reality, the envelope with the security deposit was returned to the landlord. It was addressed to the address that one of the parents gave the landlord, but named the other parent who had a different last name. That is why it was returned. Nonetheless, the lower court found that the security deposit was properly returned and that there was no basis for a double recovery under N.J.S.A. 46:8-21.1. The lower court then gave the parents ten days in which to file their own complaint, or for their children to file an amended complaint if they had first gotten an assignment of rights or some other authority which would give them standing.

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