Dukes v. Mohammadish

A-3827-97T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: April 5, 1999

LEASES; SECURITY DEPOSITS—Awards to a tenant for improper retention of a residential security deposit apply to the net, unreturned balance and are subject to doubling.

After a residential tenant vacated its apartment, the landlord, based on a contractor’s invoice representing the costs of repair to the apartment, made a deduction from the security deposit and returned the remaining balance, plus accrued interest, to the tenant. A letter forwarding the check contained a statement that cashing the check confirmed that the tenant was satisfied with the refunded security deposit and that the landlord did not owe the tenant any more money. The tenant negotiated the check, and then filed a complaint in the small claims division for return of the full security deposit and accrued interest, seeking trebled damages. The lower court found that there was no damage to the unit and awarded the tenant three times the amount of the security deposit. On appeal, the Court accepted the factual findings made by the lower court, but held that the amount of the judgment must be reduced to double the unreturned security deposit balance. In doing so, it held that the most that the lower court could award was double the remaining monies due pursuant to N.J.S. 46:8-21.1. The Court did not address the landlord’s argument that acceptance of partial payment of the security deposit operated as full satisfaction.