April 10, 2008
RITA WHITNEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
EDWARD SZULACZKOWSKI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. SC-405-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 16, 2008
Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.
Defendant Edward Szulaczkowski appeals from a $3,021 Special Civil Part judgment, entered on March 6, 2007, in favor of plaintiff Rita Whitney. Defendant resided in property owned by plaintiff. The judgment represents rent due under the parties' agreement, subject to the jurisdictional limits of the court. Defendant asserted his obligation to remit rent was obviated by a Landlord Tenant Division consent judgment of possession and by a release executed when he vacated the premises. We reject these arguments and affirm.
Defendant initially resided in the subject apartment with plaintiff's mother. The couple married on September 9, 2004. Defendant became a widower on October 26, 2005. Thereafter, the parties negotiated a written one-year lease agreement beginning November 5, 2005. Defendant was required to pay rent of $350 per month. Defendant suggests he mailed six rental checks to plaintiff. She cashed two and returned the other four.
Plaintiff sought possession of the premises as a result of defendant's nonpayment of rent. Defendant agreed to vacate by October 31, 2006, and a judgment of possession by consent was entered. As agreed, defendant vacated the premises. Defendant prepared a one-paragraph document, executed by plaintiff's husband as plaintiff's agent, that confirmed return of the keys, confirmed no visible damage to the premise, and "released [defendant] from payment of any rent and for liability for any damages." Plaintiff's complaint alleged defendant failed to pay rent for the months of January 2006 to October 2006.
On appeal, defendant argues the Landlord Tenant judgment contained the condition "[t]he [t]enant shall pay no money" which represented an agreement that he vacate at lease's end without further liability. This interpretation of the court's order is incorrect. Under New Jersey's summary dispossess statute, landlords may elect an expedited procedure to regain possession of leased premises in the event of nonpayment of rent. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53(b). "Possession of the premises is the only available remedy for nonpayment of rent, because money damages may not be awarded in a summary dispossess action." Hodges v. Sasil Corp., 189 N.J. 210, 221 (2007).
Further, defendant maintains the release executed by plaintiff's husband extinguished the rental obligation. While the release, in fact, terminated any future rental obligation between the parties, it does not release defendant from payment of past rent due.
Our scope of review of the findings of fact made in a non-jury matter is limited. Berberian v. Lynn, 355 N.J. Super. 210, 216 (App. Div. 2002), aff'd as modified, 179 N.J. 290 (2004). As long as the facts found by the trial judge are supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence in the record, we have no occasion to disturb them. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). After review of the record, we are satisfied that Judge Gelade's factual findings are amply supported by the evidence, and he correctly applied the law.
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