On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Union County, Docket No. SC-1689-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 12, 2011
Before Judges Fuentes and Gilroy.
Defendant Elizabeth Post appeals from the November 10, 2009 judgment that was entered against her in the amount of $1,645 together with court costs.*fn1 Defendant also appeals from the January 26, 2010 order that denied her motion for a new trial. We reverse.
This matter arises from a dispute between cotenants of a residential apartment in Hoboken. On September 9, 2009, plaintiff Tyler Masterson filed a complaint against defendant in the Special Civil Part, Small Claims Section, seeking to recover one-half of one month's rent from defendant, together with payment of defendant's share of certain utilities. On November 10, 2009, the parties tried the matter pro se. At the conclusion of the trial, the court rendered an oral decision entering judgment in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $1,645 together with court costs. On November 30, 2009, defendant filed a motion for a new trial. On January 26, 2010, defendant retained counsel, after which the original trial judge recused himself from the motion. On January 26, 2010, another judge treated the motion as one for reconsideration and denied it.
We discern the following facts from the transcript of the trial proceedings. In August 2008, plaintiff and Claudia Fernandez occupied an apartment in Hoboken under a written lease agreement. The apartment contained two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a common area. The lease was for a one-year term with rent fixed at $2,150 per month, plus utilities.
Shortly after the lease was signed, Fernandez needed to terminate her obligation under the lease. Plaintiff, as the remaining roommate, advertised on Craigslist for someone to take Fernandez's place, and defendant, after viewing the apartment, agreed to substitute for Fernandez on the lease. On August 11, 2008, Fernandez notified the landlord's managing agent of her intent to substitute defendant on the lease for herself. The agent agreed.
Plaintiff and defendant signed a new lease with the landlord for the apartment for the balance of the term from September 15, 2008 to July 31, 2009, at the same rent. The lease contained the following paragraphs relevant to the dispute in controversy.
The Tenant shall pay the rent to the Landlord at the Landlord's address set forth above. If the Apartment is leased to more than one occupant, each such occupant shall remain jointly and severally liable for all rent, additional rent and other costs hereunder.
21. Renewal Lease The Landlord must offer the Tenant a renewal lease to take effect at the end of the term unless the Landlord has good cause as defined by law. The renewal lease may contain reasonable changes, including any changes in the term, rent and surcharges allowed by law.
If the Landlord offers a renewal lease, the Landlord shall notify the Tenant of the renewal lease at least sixty (60) days before the end of the term. The Tenant must notify the Landlord of the Tenant's acceptance or rejection of the renewal lease at least forty-five (45) days before the end of the term. IT IS THE TENANT'S RESPONSIBILITY TO NOTIFY THE LANDLORD, IN WRITING, OF THE TENANT'S ACCEPTANCE OR REJECTION OF THE LEASE RENEWAL AT LEAST FORTY[-]FIVE (45) DAYS BEFORE THE END OF THE TERM. If the Tenant does not accept the renewal lease, the Tenant must vacate the apartment at the end of the Term. In other cases Tenant must give Landlord a minimum of 60 days to vacate. Regardless of 60 days written notice to vacate, termination of any lease will not be permitted for the period of December 31st-January 1st. Tenant must then cooperate with Landlord and Landlord agents to allow unit to be shown to prospective Tenants.
22. Tenant Change Any change of Tenants must be approved by Landlord in writing prior to new Tenant occupying the Apartment. Leases and paperwork must be ...