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Weber v. Bonfiglio

A-3410-09T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

LEASES; SECURITY DEPOSITS — A landlord must return a residential tenant’s security deposit within thirty days after a lease termination unless, no later than that thirtieth day, the landlord sends the tenant an itemized statement of damages caused by its tenant and upon the landlord’s failure to provide the itemized statement within that time period, the court can award the tenant double the security deposit after any appropriate offsets.

A tenant rented a house at a monthly rent of $3,500 with a $5,250 security deposit. He paid the rent in a timely fashion for four months until he received a professional opinion that his heating bills were excessive because of furnace problems. At that time, he wrote to the landlord, notifying him that he would be deducting $1,200 from the rent for the excess heating bills and he sent a reduced rent payment of $2,300. The tenant never heard meaningfully from the landlord concerning the deduction. The tenant did not pay his last month’s rent, as he feared the landlord would not return the security deposit.

Ultimately, the tenant sued the landlord for return of a net security deposit of $1,750. The lower court found that because the landlord had not provided the tenant an itemized statement of damages within 30 days of the lease’s termination, he was required to have returned the security deposit within those same 30 days. The lower court, after taking testimony from the tenant, but not the landlord who did not appear for trial, concluded that the tenant’s $1,200 deduction from one month’s rent was appropriate. The lower court ordered the landlord to return $1,750 to the tenant, and because it had not been returned within the 30 days, the amount was doubled to $3,500 as required by law.

The landlord appealed that the $1,200 deduction was improper, but the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling as appropriate because the landlord had presented no testimony to contradict the tenant’s assertion that his heating bills were excessive due to a broken furnace, and that he had deducted the $1,200 to offset the increased heating bills that resulted from the broken furnace. The Court also said that, under New Jersey law, a landlord must return a residential tenant’s security deposit within 30 days of a lease termination unless, no later than that thirtieth day, the landlord sends the tenant an itemized statement of damages caused by its tenant. Further, if a landlord fails to provide the itemized statement within 30 days, the court is required to double the security deposit after any appropriate offsets.


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