Skip to main content



Reilly v. Weiss

406 N.J. Super. 71, 966 A.2d 500 (App. Div. 2009)

LANDLORD-TENANT; SECURITY DEPOSITS — A landlord is not permitted to separate a security deposit into a lawful security deposit of one and one-half months’ rent, and an additional “special” security deposit (such as a “pet deposit”) that is not subject to the Security Deposit Act.

A landlord entered into a residential lease. The lease called for a security deposit equal to one and one-half times the monthly rent as permitted by the Security Deposit Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8-19 to -26. When the tenant requested to have pets, the landlord required an additional “pet deposit” in an amount equal to one month’s rent. The landlord and tenant began having problems, and by mutual consent, the tenant moved out. The Security Deposit Act provides that if a landlord does not return a security deposit within thirty days after a tenant vacates the premises, the tenant may sue for double the amount of the security deposit plus attorneys’ fees. The landlord did not return the security deposit within thirty days as required by the Security Deposit Act and the tenant sued. The landlord claimed that the tenant caused damage to the premises and failed to pay certain utility charges, which offset any claim to the security deposit.

The lower court found that the tenant caused damage to the premises and that the landlord was entitled to offset that from the security deposit. On the other hand, it held that the balance of the security deposit was improperly withheld from the tenant under the Security Deposit Act and was subject to doubling. The tenant argued that because the Security Deposit Act only permits a landlord to collect a security deposit equal to one and one-half times the monthly rent, the additional “pet deposit” was wrongfully held by the landlord and was subject to doubling. The lower court disagreed, refusing to penalize the landlord absent a “nefarious purpose” by landlord in requiring the additional deposit.

The tenant appealed, arguing that the landlord failed to meet its burden in proving damages to the premises. The tenant also argued that the lower court improperly refused to characterize the “pet deposit” as “wrongfully withheld” and subject to doubling. The Appellate Division reversed in part. The Court rejected the tenant’s claim that the landlord was not entitled to deduct its damages from the security deposit. However, the Court found that the landlord violated the Security Deposit Act by requiring a security deposit in excess of the statutory maximum of one and one-half month’s rent. It held that the landlord could not separate the security deposit into a lawful security deposit of one and one-half months’ rent, and an additional “pet deposit” that was not subject to the Security Deposit Act. Therefore, the Court found that the “pet deposit” constituted funds that were wrongfully withheld from the tenant and subject to doubling. The Court then held that because those funds were wrongfully withheld, the tenant was entitled to have that sum doubled before the landlord received a credit for any damages to the premises. The Court noted that if it permitted a landlord to collect more than the permitted security deposit and not penalize the landlord for violating the statute before crediting for damages, it would be tuning a “blind eye” to an obvious violation of the Security Deposit Act. By reason of the size of the damages in this case, the landlord wouldn’t have suffered any consequence for violating the statute if its tenant didn’t get credit for twice the wrongful “pet deposit.” The Court also rejected the lower court’s finding that because there was no “nefarious purpose” by the landlord, it should get off the “hook.” It noted that a court is not entitled to withhold the statutorily mandated doubling award for a wrongfully retained security deposit based on its view that a landlord’s violation was de minimus or other considerations.


MEISLIK & MEISLIK
66 Park Street • Montclair, New Jersey 07042
tel: 973-783-3000 • fax: 973-744-5757 • info@meislik.com