On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Hudson County, Docket No. DC-30829-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Lihotz.
Defendants Joseph Cupo, Assunta Cupo, and Josephine Cupo appeal from a Special Civil Part judgment awarding plaintiffs, Top Quality Realty, LLC and Emad Nairooz, $1,399.99 as the net of their security deposit, provided pursuant to the terms of a commercial lease. We affirm.
On June 28, 2005, plaintiffs signed a three-year agreement with an additional two-year option, leasing the first floor in defendants' commercial building to operate a real estate office. Plaintiffs provided a $2,200 security deposit. Following expiration of the lease in June 2008, plaintiffs did not exercise the option but remained in the premises, paying the increased rent stated in the lease for the period of July 2008 to June 2009.
Plaintiffs vacated the premises sometime between May 31, 2009 and June 30, 2009.*fn1 The date plaintiffs left and whether they had provided proper notice was disputed. On July 3, 2009, defendants mailed a letter to plaintiffs asserting plaintiffs "vacated the premises without proper notice." The letter advised that plaintiffs' security deposit would be retained to satisfy the rent due for June 2009 and defendants also demanded an additional $628, consisting of $100 additional outstanding rent for June 2009 and $528 in attorneys' fees and costs related to a tenancy action commenced by defendants that was dismissed on June 22, 2009. The letter also demanded payment for damages discovered upon inspection of the premises, including $800 to replace a water heater and a demand to replace a broken safety glass window pane, reinstallation of an internal office door, and "numerous nails/nail holes . . . beyond normal wear and tear," later established as $653.*fn2
Plaintiffs did not respond to the letter. On November 23, 2009, they initiated this action seeking return of the security deposit and related damages stemming from defendants' "frivolous [tenancy] action[.]"
Defendants answered and counterclaimed for damages consisting of $2,300 outstanding rent for June 2009; $100 late fee for nonpayment of rent; $802.61 for replacement of the water heater; $652.82 for replacement of safety glass and reinstallation of an internal office door; $1,978.17 for plaintiffs' share of the water bill from July 2006 to June 2009; $1,280.67 for plaintiffs' proportionate share of real estate taxes from third quarter 2007 through second quarter 2009; $628 in legal fees for the tenancy action; and $750 representing the costs of suit for the Special Civil Part action.
Trial was held over two days. Nairooz testified for plaintiffs and Joseph Cupo testified for defendants. The parties also presented additional fact witnesses and introduced documentary evidence.
Nairooz testified he sent a letter, dated March 31, 2009, informing defendants of the intention to vacate the premises "effective June 1, 2009." He maintained he hand-delivered the letter to the second floor of the building, which was defendants' business address according to the lease and where he paid the monthly rent. Nairooz additionally sent a copy of the letter by certified mail.*fn3 The certified letter was received on April 1, but returned to plaintiffs.
Nairooz stated he made arrangements to deliver the keys to Joseph Cupo at the second floor office on Sunday, May 31, 2009, but Cupo never arrived. He called Cupo the next day and offered to deliver the keys, but they were refused. Nairooz then sent the keys to the office through his attorney; however, they were refused. The keys were next sent to the second floor office via Federal Express, but the envelope was returned unopened. Finally, when defendants filed a tenancy action for nonpayment of rent claiming plaintiffs were still on the premises, Nairooz surrendered the keys to defendants during the June 22, 2009 hearing. When the trial judge called the case, it was dismissed.
Marsel Mankabadi, who assisted Nairooz for two days to clean the premises, accompanied him during the attempt to surrender the keys on May 31, 2009. Madian Hernandez, plaintiff's counsel's employee, explained her efforts to deliver the keys personally and by Federal Express. Nairooz introduced the March 31 letter, the Federal Express receipts, and the order dismissing the tenancy action.
Joseph Cupo denied he received plaintiffs' written request to vacate the premises, admitting only that he had a conversation with Nairooz in the second floor office, at which time he was told plaintiffs would leave the premises "on or before June 30, 2009." Cupo denied his business address was the second floor office and insisted Nairooz never called to surrender the keys. He introduced correspondence he sent to plaintiffs to show his ...