On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County, Docket No. DC-2032-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman and Espinosa.
After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment against defendants for $7,953.94 plus costs, representing plaintiff's out-of-pocket expenses for materials he installed in making improvements to the kitchen in premises he leased from defendants.
Plaintiff and defendant Dana Mulligan were both real estate brokers who knew each other before defendants leased the subject premises to plaintiff. The premises consists of what the lease described as "a 1950s era brick rancher" located on Route 40 in Pilesgrove. The lease, which was for a one-year term from October 5, 2005 to October 5, 2006, provided for $1400 per month rent. The lease contemplated that plaintiff might purchase the premises during the course of the lease term:
Landlord and Tenant have agreed to credit Tenant for all rent payments timely made toward Tenant's payment of a purchase price for the Property in the event Landlord and Tenant come to an agreement whereby Tenant shall purchase the property for an agreed upon price.
According to plaintiff, the kitchen was in poor condition at the beginning of his tenancy:
The kitchen was in very much disarray from, you know, I guess years of neglect or something. I don't know. It was real old. The cabinets were falling off the wall. The doors, if you slid them -- the cabinets did not open up. They slid. They were just sliding cabinets, and as you slid them they get jammed and fall off on you. It was just in -- the floors were really bad. You wouldn't want to walk on them with your bare feet. It was in quite disarray.
Consequently, plaintiff decided to make improvements to the kitchen.
Plaintiff discussed those proposed improvements with Mrs. Mulligan and obtained her approval:
Q: And what was the nature of the discussions you had with Dana Mulligan?
A: They were just that I was going to fix up the kitchen. Oh, yeah, go for it. You ...