On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-4439-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 17, 2008
Before Judges Rodríguez and Waugh.
Plaintiffs, Pinedge Associates and Pinedge Associates, LLC (collectively "Pinedge") appeal from the March 23, 2007 final judgment following a bench trial. The judge awarded $34,053.30 plus $11,952.34 in costs and counsel fees to Pinedge to be paid by defendant Steliga Homes Corporation (Steliga). This judgment represents an award of $55,558, less a set off to Steliga on its counterclaim of $21,501.64. Steliga cross-appeals, arguing that it is entitled to the reasonable value of its services and challenging both the amount of the judgment and the award of counsel fees to Pinedge. We affirm on the appeal and cross-appeal, but remand for a statement of reasons for the award of attorney's fees.
These are the salient facts. Pinedge owned several properties called the Pinedge Corporate Center in Burlington and Camden Counties. Joseph Samost is the principal of Pinedge. Kenneth Steliga is the chief executive officer of Steliga. His son, Timothy Steliga, also works for Steliga. Samost and the Steligas maintained an informal and amicable relationship.
On July 15, 1998, Steliga agreed to lease the upper level of a building at the Pinedge Corporate Center for $600 per month, plus payment of the yearly real estate taxes. Provision 7(c)(1) of the upper lease states:
TAXES. Landlord shall be responsible for Real Estate Taxes and assessments, (including special assessments and all expenses pertaining to contesting or negotiating said assessment) levied, imposed or assessed upon the site during the Lease year. Tenant shall be responsible for all personal property taxes and assessments, including without limitation sanitary sewer, electric and gas assessments. Any increase in real estate taxes: over the base year of 1998 shall be paid by the tenant.
The lease provided for automatic, annual renewals unless written notification was provided by either party. The lease agreement called for a five percent late charge for any late payments or unpaid rent, on which interest accrued at eight percent per annum.
Main Line Realty entered into a lease agreement with Pinedge to occupy the lower level at the same building from July 15, 1998 to July 14, 2001, at a monthly rent of $1000. On March 1, 2000, Main Line assigned its rights to the lower levels to Steliga. In a separate agreement, Steliga agreed to lease the lower level from Pinedge for $1,000 a month. Provision 9 of the lower level lease states:
Rent is due and payable on or before the first day of each month. Rent received after the tenth (10th) of the month is subject to a late charge of ten (10%) of the monthly payment which charge must accompany the rent. Provision 9 of the upper level lease states:
Rent is due on or before the first day of each month. Rent received after the tenth of the month is subject to a late charge of (5) percent of the monthly payments which charge must accompany the rent. Interest at the rate of 8% per annum shall ac[crue] from the date payment was due to date receive[d].
A severe fire damaged the property. According to Kenneth, "the tenants were out on the street and Joe [Samost] asked us to help." Kenneth and Tim assisted with the clean-up and construction, which included hiring subcontractors, purchasing materials and working with suppliers. Steliga repaired the building and assisted Pinedge with obtaining zoning approvals. Additionally, Steliga loaned Pinedge $37,737.77 for property tax payments. In January of 2002, Steliga ceased paying rent.
Steliga remained as a tenant. On March 5, 2004, Pinedge sent Steliga a letter demanding payment of $68,100 in unpaid rent, additional rent, late charges and interest. The letter also terminated ...