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Bonanno v. Wembley

A-1007-09T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

LEASES; EVICTION — Sending a residential tenant a letter that the tenant must vacate its premises because it had broken the lease does not constitute the statutory notice required to evict the tenant for such a reason.

A residential month-to-month lease included a provision prohibiting pets. In March 2009, the landlord became aware that its tenant had a dog in the apartment. The landlord allegedly mailed a letter to the tenants telling the tenant to get rid of the dog or move out by the end of April. The landlord further alleged that it wrote again on April 1, 2009 telling the tenants that the lease would not be renewed and that they had to vacate the apartment because they had broken the lease had been violated by having a pet.

The landlord then filed an eviction complaint for having a pet and for non-payment of April’s rent. Judgment for eviction was entered after default. The landlord then sued for damages. The landlord provided the lower court with documents and photos of the damage done to the apartment. It also included the bills for the house cleaning and repairs. The tenants denied all of the landlord’s claims and testified they left the house upon the landlord’s instructions. The lower court entered an order dismissing the landlord’s complaint for damages and awarded the tenants their security deposit on the counterclaim, after deducting the expenses. The lower court ruled that the landlord had failed to give the tenants certain required notices and ignored its responsibilities under the lease and New Jersey’s security deposit law.

Under New Jersey law, a landlord may move to evict a tenant who has, after written notice to cease, continued to substantially violate or breach any of the landlord’s rules and regulations governing the premises. Four statutory provisions must be satisfied before a landlord can file to evict a tenant. The preconditions are: (1) that the lease provision be violated; (2) that the landlord gave notice to cease the violation; (3) that the tenant continued to violate the rules and regulations and; (4) that the landlord gave the tenant one month’s notice of termination before filing suit.

On appeal, the Appellate Division found that the lower court correctly determined that the landlord had failed to comply with the notice requirements under the Anti-Eviction Act and improperly terminated the lease by noticing its tenants to leave without giving the tenants an opportunity to cease the lease violation.

No rent was owed to the landlord for April as the tenants had vacated the premises at the landlord’s request. The landlord also argued that the counterclaim under the Security Deposit Act should be dismissed as it should not have been allowed at the trial. As to the counterclaim, the Court rejected landlord’s claims of damage to the apartment, reduced the amount claimed to what it deemed reasonable damages, and deducted the damages from the security deposit. The landlord presented no meritorious argument attacking the lower court’s factual findings or calculation of the amount wrongfully withheld. Thus, the Court rejected the landlord’s contentions that the counterclaim should not have been heard and the lower court should not have entered judgment for the tenants.


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