Shad v. Palladino

A-3160-98T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: January 26, 2000

LANDLORD-TENANT; LANDLORD LIABILITY—Treble damages for an unlawful lockout are may be awarded only if the tenant is not returned to possession, but can be awarded based upon the tenant’s alternate housing costs while out of possession.

Two men rented a furnished room. When the landlord notified them to vacate the premises, they declined to do so. The landlord then filed a complaint under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and obtained a temporary restraining order, removing the men from the premises. The restraining order was dismissed because there was no basis for entry of an order under that Act. The tenants then sought damages against the landlord for having been improperly removed from the premises and the lower court awarded attorneys’ fees and tripled the amount they paid in alternate rent while they were out of possession. The tenants also sought to have their belongings returned by the landlord. When the landlord did not return all of their belongings, the tenant returned to court seeking damages under a conversion theory. The lower court awarded damages, but refused to treble them and refused to allow attorneys’ fees. N.J.S. 2A:39-8 grants both treble damages and reasonable attorney’s fees in cases of unlawful entry and detainer. Here, however, the Court pointed out that the same statute only permits trebling of damages when the tenants are not returned to possession. Once the temporary restraining order was dismissed, the tenants were allowed to resume possession. Consequently, there was no statutory authority for the trebling of damages incurred by the tenants on conversion of their property, even though the conversion resulted from an illegal lockout. When the lower court trebled the alternative housing costs, those damages did properly arise from the tenant being out of possession. With respect to the attorney’s fees, the Appellate Division thought that the lower court should have made an award because the recovery of the property was included within “all damages proximately caused by the unlawful entry and detainer… .”