On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-775-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 23, 2008
Before Judges Collester and Grall.
On January 27, 2006, plaintiff Dr. Kyusso Kim, owner and landlord of commercial property at 422 Route 18 in the Township of East Brunswick, filed a Law Division complaint seeking a judgment against defendants Shashibala Soni and Best Medical, P.C., for unpaid rent. Following a non-jury trial before Judge Jamie Happas in the Special Civil Part, judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $30,448.00, which was recorded as a lien on June 1, 2007. Defendants filed a notice of appeal on June 5, 2007, and we entered an order staying the judgment pending appeal on July 6, 2007.
A written lease agreement between the parties was executed on March 8, 2005 for a period of three years with a monthly rental of $3,500 per month and late charges of $175 per day imposed after the fifth of the month. Plaintiff contended that defendants failed to pay rent for a five month period from September 2005 to January 2006. The central dispute at trial was whether a written lease produced by plaintiff or a photocopied lease produced by defendants was the actual lease. The document produced by defendants contained a provision that the rent would not commence until the Township approved the unit for the intended commercial use, which did not occur until October 2006. A similar provision was crossed out in the lease agreement provided to the court by plaintiff.
As noted by the court, defendants paid rent for the months of June through August 2005, which conflicted with its argument that the lease was only effective as of October. Moreover, the court resolved the contradictory testimony of plaintiff and defendant Soni by finding that plaintiff's testimony was more credible and that plaintiff's case was proved by a preponderance of the evidence.
Our standard of review of a trial court's fact-finding is one of deference, requiring only that the facts as found are supported by adequate competent evidence in the record. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974); R. 2:10-2. After careful review of the record and in light of the credibility findings by the trial judge, we find there is substantial evidence in support of the trial judge's findings and conclusions.
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