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Good v. Wright

A-5218-09T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

LEASES — A landlord is not entitled to receive rent for that part of a lease term after a tenant prematurely vacates the premises if the landlord has reoccupied the premises during that time.

A residential lease required the tenants to pay rent timely, with a charge imposed if it was not paid by the fifth of each month. The late charges were denominated as additional rent. The lease required a security deposit. It was to be returned thirty days after the end of the lease term, less any charges imposed pursuant to the lease. The lease also stated that the tenants would be liable for all damages caused by their lease violations.

The landlord sought to evict its tenants, alleging they had not paid rent when due and had violated the terms of the lease. The lower court entered a judgment of possession and a warrant for the tenants’ removal. The tenants left the apartment.

The landlord then sued in the Special Civil Part seeking damages for unpaid rent, late fees, additional rent due for the period that non-tenants occupied the premises, extermination costs, and cleaning expenses. The landlord presented various pieces of evidence to substantiate the cleaning expenses. The lower court found the landlord was entitled to back rent and late fees, minus the security deposit. However, it found that the landlord had not substantiated its burden of proving that its damages went beyond ordinary wear and tear. The landlord filed a motion for reconsideration. It was denied.

On appeal, the Appellate Division found that the landlord was not entitled to receive rent for the last month of the lease because it had re-occupied the premises during the prior month. However, it found that the lower court had both failed to give the landlord an award for late fees for three months and had understated the credit that should have been afforded the tenant for the security deposit. Finally, the Court accepted the lower court’s findings relative to the alleged damages because they were based on substantial credible evidence and the landlord had been afforded a full opportunity to present its evidence.

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