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John Good v. Robert Wright

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


March 10, 2011

JOHN GOOD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT WRIGHT, 3RD, STACIE WRIGHT,
AMIRAH WRIGHT AND AYESHA WRIGHT, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Essex County, Docket No. DC-5717-10.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 15, 2011

Before Judges Yannotti and Espinosa.

Following a trial in the Special Civil Part, the court entered a judgment for plaintiff, dated May 24, 2010. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the judgment, which the court denied by order dated July 16, 2010. Plaintiff appeals from the judgment and the order denying reconsideration. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for entry of a amended judgment.

This appeal arises from the following facts.

Plaintiff entered into an agreement with Robert Wright III, Stacie Wright and Ayesha Wright (the Wrights) dated March 11, 2009, under which plaintiff leased to the Wrights an apartment in Newark, New Jersey for the period through March 31, 2010.

The lease required the Wrights to pay rent in the amount of $1050 per month during the lease term. The lease stated that a $50 charge would be imposed if rent was not paid before the 5th day of each month, and such late charges would be considered additional rent.

The lease further required the Wrights to make a security deposit in the amount of $1575. The lease stated that the deposit would be returned thirty days after the end of the lease term, less any charges imposed pursuant to the lease. The lease additionally stated that the Wrights would be liable for all damages caused by any violation of the lease.

On November 10, 2009, plaintiff filed an action in the Special Civil Part against the Wrights seeking a judgment of possession for the leased premises. Plaintiff alleged that the Wrights had not paid rent when due and violated the terms of the lease. On January 29, 2010, the court entered a judgment of possession for plaintiff and a warrant for the Wrights' removal from the premises was issued. It is undisputed that the Wrights vacated the premises on February 4, 2010.

On February 19, 2010, plaintiff filed this action against Robert Wright III, Stacie Wright, Ayesha Wright and Amirah Wright in the Special Civil Part, seeking $8084 in damages, less the security deposit (and interest) of $1590 for a net recovery of $6494. In particular, plaintiff sought unpaid rent in the amount of $1050 per month for December 2009 through March 2010; late fees of $50 per month for November 2009 through March 2010; additional rent of $1600 because persons other than the tenants resided in the apartment from June 2009 through January 2010; and extermination costs and cleaning expenses.

The matter was tried before the court, sitting without a jury. Plaintiff provided the court with a copy of the lease. The court observed that Amirah Wright had not signed the lease. Accordingly, the court dismissed the claims as to Amirah Wright because she had no obligations under the lease.

Plaintiff testified that, after defendants vacated the premises, the bathroom had to be cleaned. Plaintiff said that there was "soap scum" in the tub and on the walls. He claimed that defendants had torn the doorstops off of the doors. He said that defendants had smoked in the apartment and "there's cigarette smoke throughout the place." He also said that defendants had burned holes in the carpet on the sun porch. Plaintiff provided the court with photographs of the alleged damage.

The court found that plaintiff was entitled to rent in the amount of $1050 per month for December 2009 through February 2010, plus a late fee of $50 for November 2009. The court gave the Wrights credit for the $1575 security deposit, leaving a balance due in the amount of $1625. The court further found that plaintiff had not sustained his burden of proving that the damages for which he sought compensation went beyond "ordinary wear and tear for which the landlord would be otherwise responsible."

On May 4, 2010, the court entered a judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $1625, plus costs in the amount of $57. On May 25, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the judgment, and argued that the court should have awarded him the additional damages he sought. Plaintiff asserted, among other things, that the court had not provided him with a sufficient opportunity to present his case. The court denied plaintiff's motion by order entered on July 16, 2010.

On appeal, plaintiff raises the following arguments for our consideration:

ALL DEFENDANTS SHOULD BE HELD JOINTLY OR SEPARATELY [RESPONSIBLE] FOR RENTS THROUGH [THE] MARCH 31, 2010[,] END OF [THE] LEASE AGREEMENT, REPAIRS MADE TO THIS APARTMENT, ADDITIONAL RENT FOR UNAUTHORIZED SQUATTERS, LANDLORD/TENANT FEES, ALONG WITH MONIES [SOUGHT IN THE] CIVIL SUIT PLUS FOREFIETURE OF [THE] SECURITY DEPOSIT.

Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by dismissing the claims as to Amirah Wright. We disagree. The court stated on the record that Amirah Wright had not signed the lease, and plaintiff offered no proof to the contrary. A review of the lease agreement indicates that only three persons signed the lease as tenants. Ayesha Wright did not dispute that she signed the agreement, along with Robert Wright III and Stacie Wright. We are therefore satisfied that the record supports the court's finding that Amirah Wright had not signed the lease and had no obligations under that agreement.

Next, plaintiff argues that the court erred by failing to award him rent for March 2010, the last month of the lease. Again, we disagree. Plaintiff concedes that in the landlord-tenant action, the court had awarded him possession of premises and that the Wrights had vacated the premises on February 4, 2010. We are satisfied that, under the circumstances, plaintiff was not entitled to rent for the month of March 2010.

We believe, however, that the court erred by failing to award plaintiff late fees for the months of December 2009, January 2010 and February 2010. As we stated previously, the lease provides that the tenants are obligated to pay as additional rent $50 per month if any rental payment is made after the fifth day of the month. The trial court awarded plaintiff $50 for November 2009, but did not award plaintiff the late fees for the unpaid monthly rent payments for December 2009 through February 2010.

Furthermore, the court only gave the Wrights a credit of $1575 for the security deposit when plaintiff asserted in his complaint that the Wrights were entitled to a credit of $1590. Thus, plaintiff should have been awarded an additional $150 in late fees, less the additional $15 that should have been credited to the Wrights for the security deposit, or $135.

Plaintiff also argues that the trial court erred by failing to award him any compensation for the alleged damage to the premises caused by the Wrights. Plaintiff contends that he was not afforded a fair opportunity to present all of his evidence. In our view, these arguments are without merit.

The record indicates that the court permitted plaintiff to present his evidence regarding the alleged damage to the premises and reviewed the photos that plaintiff submitted. The court determined that the evidence failed to establish that the alleged damage was something other than normal wear and tear.

The trial court's findings of fact are binding on appeal because they are based on substantial credible evidence. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974).

We have considered plaintiff's other arguments and find them to be of insufficient merit to warrant discussion in this opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

Accordingly, we remand the matter to the trial court and direct that it file an amended judgment awarding plaintiff an additional $135. Furthermore, since the judgment of May 4, 2010 was entered against "Wright," it should be modified to state that the claims against Amirah Wright are dismissed with prejudice and the judgment is entered against Robert Wright III, Stacie Wright and Ayesha Wright.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded to the trial court for entry of an amended judgment of conviction.

20110310

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