On appeal from Middlesex County District Court.
For affirmance -- Justices Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justice Heher. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.
Plaintiff sought to recover a statutory penalty from the defendants pursuant to N.J.S. 2 A:42-38, which is section 25 of the State Rent Control Act of 1953, L. 1953, c. 216 (N.J.S. 2 A:42-14 et seq.). The matter was submitted to the Middlesex County District Court upon an agreed stipulation revealing the following factual background.
Plaintiff rented a residential apartment in Perth Amboy owned by defendants from August 10, 1953 to April 10, 1955. He was a month-to-month tenant and paid a rental of $75 per month. The State Rent Control Act of 1953 was operative in Perth Amboy during this period and the maximum rental upon the premises in question was fixed at $35 per month by the Middlesex County Rent Control Agency.
The complaint was composed of 20 counts, responsive to each monthly rental and overcharge, and sought judgment of $120 on each count, being three times the individual
monthly overcharge, or a sum total of $2,400 on the entire complaint.
The trial court returned a judgment in the amount of $2,400 and defendants pursued an appeal to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. We certified the cause prior to a review below.
Two questions are presented on this appeal:
1. Does the limitation of one year's lawful rent upon the penalty within N.J.S. 2 A:42-38 apply to the entire period of excessive rental payments or to each monthly overcharge in a month-to-month tenancy?
2. Does the county district court have jurisdiction to enter a judgment in excess of $1,000 in an action under N.J.S. 2 A:42-38?
N.J.S. 2 A:42-38 provides, inter alia:
"Any landlord who shall violate * * * any order of a county rent control agency, * * * made pursuant to this act, shall forfeit to his tenant a sum equal to three times the amount of any rent received by him from his tenant in excess of the lawful base rental * * * but not in excess of one year's lawful ...