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Manzo v. Jeljenic

A-0760-10T4 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS — If property damage was obvious at the time a landlord locked-out its tenant, then the discovery rule will not toll the statute of limitations within which time a landlord could sue its former tenant for the same damage.

A landlord purchased a property in 1996, at which time tenants leased the first floor and basement to use as a bakery. The landlord visited the property on a regular basis between 1996 and 2001, during which time he observed various problems, including mold growth and water issues. The landlord later sent the tenants a notice to quit based on unpaid rent. Then, the landlord locked the tenants out of the building and right after the lockout, the landlord began mold remediation and fumigation of the property. The landlord then sued the tenants, alleging that they had breached their lease, damaged the property, and left garbage, debris and abandoned equipment.

The lower court dismissed the landlord’s complaint, finding it was barred by a six year statute of limitations. It found that the landlord should have been aware of the obvious property damage before or around the time of the lockout and not weeks later when he obtained an inspection report. The landlord appealed the decision.

In the appeal, the landlord argued that his awareness of the damage at the property was a disputed factual issue that could not be resolved on a summary judgment motion. The Appellate Division responded that the landlord was required to file his property damage action within six years of the alleged cause of action occurring. The Court then held that it is for a lower court to determine whether the discovery rule applies. It also stated that the landlord acknowledged that he regularly observed and complained about damage at the property while the tenants were operating on the premises. Thus, the landlord’s actual knowledge of the alleged wrongful acts and omissions precluded him from relying on the discovery rule. The Court also found, immaterial, the landlord’s claim that he was unaware of the extent of the damage.

As a result, the Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the landlord’s complaint as time-barred.

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