On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil Part, Gloucester County, DC-7168-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: January 14, 2008
Before Judges A.A. Rodríguez and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant Dennis Jefferson, the landlord, appeals from a judgment in favor of plaintiff Ruth Tentsoglides, the tenant, for double the amount of the security deposit he retained without good cause. We affirm.
Around February 2004 defendant told plaintiff about a house he owned in Linwood that needed repairs. Defendant was familiar with recent improvements plaintiff made to the place where she lived. They agreed that plaintiff would repair the Linwood house in exchange for a reduced rent because defendant did not consider the house otherwise habitable.
Plaintiff began working on defendant's house in August 2004. She and her sister, Helen Hampton, worked on the house on their days off and took some vacation time as well to do the repairs and renovations. The work consisted of installing flooring and kitchen tiles, repairing ceilings, cabinets and drywall, as well as wallpaper removal.
About two months later plaintiff approached defendant about putting their agreement into writing. The agreement, a month-to-month lease written by defendant, provided that plaintiff would repair the house in exchange for rent of $475. The agreement further provided that the discounted-rent provision would only be in effect until the end of December 2004.
In January 2005 defendant and plaintiff, along with Hampton, signed a new lease, which increased the rent to $950. Plaintiff testified that leading up to this time, the parties were not getting along well. Plaintiff felt that she was working excessively and being under-compensated but felt she had "nowhere to go but forward." Therefore, she elected to stay at the house and continue with the repairs. Defendant disagreed with plaintiff's characterization of the repairs that still needed to be done, and testified that no major repairs were left. Defendant always compensated plaintiff and Hampton on a monthly basis for all out-of-pocket expenses.
Plaintiff testified that defendant agreed to make certain repairs to the house while she was living there but he did not do so. These included electrical work and installation of ceiling fans, a new sink, new locks and a garbage disposal. Plaintiff also complained that defendant never removed a number of his belongings from the house before she began occupancy.
In the spring of 2005, while doing landscaping work on the property, plaintiff chopped down a crape myrtle tree. Plaintiff testified that she did so accidentally and admitted that she did not reimburse defendant for it.
At one point during the tenancy, the parties agreed to split the cost of a new hot water heater. The cost was $500 and plaintiff paid $200 of her share over the course of a few months following installation.
Plaintiff gave written notice on August 30, 2005, of her intent to vacate and she moved out on September 30. She admitted that she left some of her belongings in the house until October, yet no rent was paid after September. According to defendant, these items included a television and stand, exercise equipment, a bowling ball, clothing, yard furniture, a grill, concrete and volleyball nets. In the middle of October plaintiff returned to remove the majority of this property, but left behind yard chairs and volleyball posts.
Defendant inspected the house after plaintiff and her sister moved out and found damage to the floors. Just prior to plaintiff occupying the house, defendant spent $1790 to repair the hardwood floors. The new floors were damaged and defendant obtained an estimate of $650 to repair them. Defendant obtained other estimates for wallpaper removal ($79.50) and replacement of the crape myrtle tree ($446). Defendant spent $1300 to repair cracks and holes in the walls. He also observed other damages, such as stray paint marks and marks on the kitchen floor, but he did not ...