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Buddington v. Shamam

A-0634-09T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

SECURITY DEPOSITS; LANDLORD-TENANT — After a court gives appropriate credit to a landlord for the cost of permanent repairs, it must double the remaining security deposit monies wrongfully held beyond thirty days after the termination of a residential tenant’s lease and award that sum to the tenant.

A resident sued her landlord to recover her security deposit and for a doubling of damages under the Security Deposit Act (SDA). The tenant had held over on a month-to-month tenancy after her last written lease expired. She testified that she had vacated the premises the first of the month after giving thirty days’ notice that she would be moving. Her security deposit was $1,425, and no part of the deposit had been returned by the landlord. Less than a month after she vacated the apartment, she received a certified letter from her landlord saying that he had performed a walk-through and found improper spackling and torn kitchen flooring which needed repair. He also alleged that he paid for new locks and keys and to remove debris. According to the landlord, the total costs exceeded the security deposit amount.

The tenant testified that, before she left, she had spackled holes in various rooms, and had installed the kitchen flooring at her own expense. The landlord claimed the need to spackle and paint five rooms and to replace the linoleum. The lower court, relying on photographs of the unit, found nothing to show that the entire unit needed to be repainted, but only the spackled areas needed painting. It also held that the condition of the linoleum did not appear to be anything attributable to any wrongful conduct by the tenant, and that the lease did not provide the landlord with a right to change keys and locks at the expense of the tenant. In short, the lower court found the landlord had proven $400 in expenses in connection with respackling and painting holes and cleaning the carpeting in other rooms, leaving a balance of $1,110, which was then doubled under the SDA.

The landlord appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed, finding no occasion to disturb the lower court’s findings as they were based on sufficient credible evidence in the record. Additionally, the Court affirmed the lower court’s interpretation of the SDA, as it permits the doubling of security deposit monies wrongfully withheld beyond thirty days after the termination of the lease.

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