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

Renting an Apartment with Bad Credit

In today’s real estate market, more and more people are deciding to rent rather than apply for a mortgage. The reasons behind that are numerous, and they include: overpriced housing, divorcing couples, job loss, disability and bad credit. Because of the recent influx of former homeowners into the renting world, landlords are now able to be more particular about their renters. This is good for landlords, but can be quite difficult for those people who have lower credit scores. Naturally, a less-than-desirable credit report often excludes people from being approved for a home loan, and now it looks like it may make renting difficult as well.

Most landlords are going to require a credit check, so if you know that your credit score is quite low, give your prospective landlord a head’s up and offer to pay a designated portion of the rent up front -six months to a year’s worth – in order to put his mind at ease about your score. Reassure him that you are actively working to raise your credit score and that it is low due to events that are now in the past. You can also ask a friend or family member with good credit co-sign your lease with you, or get a letter of recommendation from someone you from in the past, providing proof as to your reliability. Remember though, if you fail to make your payments on time, a co-signer’s credit will suffer as well.

Also consider asking your potential landlord if you can provide your current credit report to them. By avoiding a “hard inquiry” ( when someone other than you requests your credit report), you can also give your landlord a written letter explaining any difficulties that you have had and what you are doing to remedy them.  Also, too many hard inquiries will actually make your credit score drop even lower.

Consider the possibility of getting a roommate who has excellent credit. Usually, if at least one tenant has good credit, a landlord will be more likely to rent to you. Also, steer clear of big apartment complexes, and look for individual landlords who are looking to rent out a home or part of a home.  Ask your real estate agent  if he knows of any mom-and-pop landlords in the area. Try looking on craigslist for rentals that appear to be offered by an individual rather than a management company.

Although renting an apartment with bad credit is no longer as easy as it used to be, it can be done, as long as you’re taking the appropriate steps to improve your credit report.  To ensure that you are doing all that you can to bring your credit score up, seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in credit repair.  There is no need to despair about your living prospects  as long as you are steadily moving in the right direction.

 

*Photo provided by Editor B