Bernheim v. Drewes

A-5445-97T5 (N.J. Super App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: July 22, 1999

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION—A tenant may pay rent to a Sheriff pursuant to a writ of execution.

Through a byzantine series of assignments, the original landlord of an apartment acquired, by assignment, the rights its original lender had pursuant to an assignment of rents. The landlord asserted its rights as the assignee of the lender. The apartment was a condominium unit and the owner had not paid common expenses to the condominium association. The association obtained a judgment and the County Sheriff served the tenant with a writ of execution based on that judgment, directing the tenant to pay monthly rent to the Sheriff until the judgment was satisfied. The tenant did so. Eventually, the judgment was satisfied. The landlord, now “also” the assignee of the original assignment of rents, sought to recover the rent that been paid to the Sheriff and alleged that the tenant either should have ignored the writ or interpleaded the money into court. At no time did the landlord ever ask the tenant to do so. At no time while the tenant was faithfully making monthly payments to the Sheriff, did the landlord, or anyone on its behalf, make any demand on the tenant to stop paying the Sheriff and pay the landlord.

The Court held the rights of the landlord, even if it were purely an “assignee,” were subject to the judgment obtained by the condominium association because the rights of the assignor were subject to that judgment. The rights of an assignee can rise no higher than those of its assignor. In addition, the landlord did not dispute the judgment and the tenant “paid all rent when due, and properly made rental payments to the Sheriff… .” It would “be a great injustice to compel defendant to pay rent twice.” If, as the landlord-assignee asserted, it, rather than the condominium association, was entitled to the rent in question, there was no reason why it should not have been able to sue the association for that amount.