Can I Sue My NJ Landlord?

2468996425_fd077296dc_zDisputes between NJ landlords and their tenants are quite common. If your interactions with your landlord have disintegrated, you may be considering moving out or you may have already been evicted. If you feel that either of those outcomes resulted in your landlord wrongfully keeping all or part of your security deposit, you may have a case against him.

It is an unfortunate truth that there are some unscrupulous landlords in New Jersey and elsewhere. Some areas are more well known for landlord corruption than others. If you happen to live in one of those areas, it’s possible that your landlord thinks of your security deposit as part of their “piggy bank”, and that he never intended to return it to you from day one of your relationship with him.

If this seems to be the case, be sure to document all of your interactions with your landlord. If you have already moved out of your NJ rental and your landlord refuses to give you back your security deposit, he may tell you that he had to use your security deposit for repairs. He may even ask you for additional money! If this is the case, be sure to demand receipts for all purchases that your landlord makes in order to perform these so-called “repairs.”

If your landlord does provide you with receipts from contractors who performed “repairs” and/or purchase order receipts for materials (Home Depot, etc.), but you feel that you are not responsible (according to your rental agreement) for the repairs that he is making, your next step is to send him a written notice under the Security Deposit Act. In this notice, you will advise him that you are disputing his billing and/or receipts for the repairs that he is performing on your rental unit. Give your landlord 30 days to respond to the written notice. Many times, landlords will end the charade and give you back your security deposit to avoid going to court.

On the other hand, if your NJ landlord cannot produce receipts and bills in accordance with what he has told you, and he does not make any effort to return the money you are owed, you definitely have a case against him and can sue him for your security deposit.

But how do I sue a landlord?

In New Jersey, landlords have 30 days after you move out to return your security deposit, along with an itemized list of any monies that were withheld. This is only different in the case of flooding, fire, condemnation or eviction, in which cases landlords have only five days to itemize and return your deposit to you. (Nolo.com)

After this time period has passed, and you have either not received your security deposit, or have only received part of it, be aware that in New Jersey, landlords can use security deposits to cover the following costs:

  1. Unpaid rent, utility bills or other financial obligations as per the rental agreement
  2. Damages that were caused by you that go above and beyond ordinary wear and tear
  3. Bringing the rental unit up to the level of cleanliness that existed when you moved in
  4. Fixing any changes that you made to the rental (for example: removing curtain rods that you had installed or other hardware that you left behind)

To ensure that your landlord will not falsify his final inspection, you may wish to ask to attend the inspection. At the very least, make sure you have many good quality photographs or video that gives clear proof of the condition of the rental unit on the day that you move out.

After the appropriate waiting period, if your landlord still refuses to return your deposit or has taken money that you feel is unjustified, the next step is to announce your intentions to your landlord about going to court.

As long as the amount you are owed from your security deposit is less than $5000, you can sue your landlord in Small Claims Court. The fee to sue your landlord is only $50. You can find details about small claims cases, like forms, fees, and whether or not you need an attorney at the NJ state court website.

Image Credit: Jen

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2 Responses to Can I Sue My NJ Landlord?

  1. Pingback: What are a Renter’s Rights During a Foreclosure? | Veitengruber Law

  2. Pingback: I’m Permanently Disabled: Can My Landlord Evict Me? | Veitengruber Law

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