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Duvert v. Vision Group

HUD-SC-2346-09 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

LEASES; SECURITY DEPOSITS — Under New Jersey’s Security Deposit Act, any party in the chain of title who fails to meet the statutory requirements for turning over a tenant’s security deposit to successors in interest is jointly and severally liable to the tenant for the return of that deposit.

A security deposit was posted in connection with a lease. Then, the landlord sold the property, and that buyer later resold it. The intermediate buyer did not receive the security deposit. In turn, the intermediate buyer did not turn the security deposit over during the subsequent sale. At a bench trial, the Court ruled that the intermediate buyer was severally liable for return of the security and entered judgment in favor of the tenant, including for double damages as required by statute.

On a motion for reconsideration, the intermediate buyer argued that the relevant statutes could only be interpreted to make the current landowner solely responsible for the return of security. The Court reviewed the legislative history and determined that the legislature did not intend to relieve an intervening grantee from liability when it fails to obtain the security of a tenant that had been paid to the prior owner. Rather, the legislative intent was to impose joint and several responsibility, giving the tenant the option to seek relief not only from the owner of record at the time of leaving the apartment, but also any other parties in the chain of title who failed to meet their statutory responsibilities under New Jersey’s Security Deposit Act. An owner is relieved from liability in a chain of ownership only when it turns the security deposit over to its successor in interest.

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