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Davis v. Westport Homes/Portside Commons

A-5351-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; SECURITY DEPOSIT—All a residential landlord is required to do is to tender return of its tenant’s security deposit within 30 days after the lease terminates; if the tenant then refuses to accept the refund, it is not entitled to doubling of the deposit.

A residential tenant’s lease called for the tenant to give two months’ written notice of her intent to leave at the end of the lease term. By letter dated February 4, the tenant notified her landlord that she would be moving on March 1. She did not vacate the apartment until March 9. She did not pay rent for the month of March. Prior to when the tenant vacated the apartment, her landlord discovered that the carpet had a burn mark. About two and half weeks after moving out, the tenant stopped by the manager’s office and was shown a copy of the carpet repair bill. She was told that the repair cost would be deducted from her security deposit. She did not provide a new address to which the check could be sent. On April 27, she returned to the office and the manager tendered a check to the tenant representing the initial security deposit less the cost of carpet repair. The tenant refused to accept it. Unbeknownst to the manager, the tenant had already filed a small claims suit for the return of the full security deposit. In the suit, the lower court determined that the carpet repair deduction was correct, but that the landlord had failed to return the balance of the security deposit within thirty days after the tenant vacated the apartment. Therefore, it doubled the unreimbursed security deposit. The landlord appealed the doubling of damages. The Appellate Division agreed with the landlord that doubling was inappropriate under the circumstances. It was clear that the landlord had proffered the full amount of the security deposit to the tenant within thirty days. The relevant statute “calls for return of the security deposit ‘within thirty days after termination of the tenant’s lease.’” The landlord’s obligation to return the security deposit commenced no earlier than March 30, the last day of the month in which the tenant actually left the apartment. Thus, the landlord had until April 30, at the earliest, to return the security deposit. It offered the full amount within that thirty-day period. Consequently, according to the Appellate Division, the landlord “did all that was required of it, and [the tenant] was not entitled to have the award doubled.” Further, the tenant’s complaint was filed before the thirty day period ran and “the premature filing of the complaint before the running of the statutory 30-day period bars [a tenant] from recovering double the amount due.”

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