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1561 Irving, LLC v. Francisca Lopez


August 2, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Union County, Docket No. DC-16051-9.

Per curiam.


Submitted July 24, 2012

Before Judges Graves and Yannotti.

Defendant Francisca Lopez appeals from a June 22, 2010 judgment that awarded $1155.31 to plaintiff 1561 Irving, LLC (1561 Irving), for unpaid rent, late fees, and court costs. The judgment also dismissed defendant's counterclaim. We affirm.

In March 2007, a commercial lease was signed by 1561 Irving, as landlord, and Frannie's Veils & Tiaras (Frannie's), as tenant, for property located at 1563 Irving Street in Rahway. The term of the lease was from March 1, 2007 through February 28, 2009. Lopez, the owner of Frannie's, signed a guaranty in which she personally guaranteed she would pay all sums due and owing to 1561 Irving in accordance with the lease.

The lease also provided as follows: Frannie's was to pay $500 per month for the first year of the lease and $525 per month for the second year of the lease, together with a late charge of five percent, as additional rent, for each payment that was more than ten days late; 1561 Irving was entitled to reasonable attorney's fees incurred to enforce the terms of the lease; and if Frannie's remained in possession of the property past the end of the lease term, the monthly rent would be 250% of the last month's rent under the lease.

On August 27, 2009, 1561 Irving filed a complaint alleging Lopez breached the lease agreement by failing to pay all sums due and owing pursuant to the terms of the lease. Lopez filed an answer and counterclaim on December 8, 2009. In her counterclaim, Lopez alleged she suffered business losses in the amount of $10,000 because she was constructively evicted from the premises in February 2009, due to 1561 Irving's renovation of an apartment located above her store.

A bench trial took place on April 23 and June 18, 2010. Phillip Baum, an employee of the property management company hired by 1561 Irving, testified that 1561 Irving performed renovations to the apartment located above Frannie's in February 2009. The project "took approximately six weeks" to complete, but 1561 Irving "only went into [Frannie's] space three different times over that six-week period to do . . . plumbing work." Baum testified that Frannie's owed $25 for rent for January 2009 because its $500 security deposit was applied to the unpaid rent amount of $525. Baum also testified that Frannie's did not pay rent for February or March 2009.

Ceciel Bonilla, Lopez's daughter and an investor in Frannie's, testified on Lopez's behalf. Bonilla stated that 1561 Irving used Frannie's space to perform work on the upstairs apartment, which began on February 7, 2009, and lasted until at least February 27, 2009. Bonilla testified that Frannie's was not "able to conduct any business through the month of February" because of the work. Lopez testified on her own behalf and estimated that Frannie's lost approximately $10,000 worth of business as a direct result of the renovation work.

The court's oral decision on June 22, 2010, included the following findings: Lopez was "obligated to pay" 1561 Irving "pursuant to the guarantor provision of the lease agreement"; Lopez owed $25 for January's rent, and $525 per month for February and March, together with late fees; Baum's testimony regarding the renovation work was "the accurate version," and Frannie's was entitled to a credit for three days in February when the renovation work "negatively impacted" the condition of the premises; Frannie's stayed in possession of the premises past the end of the lease term, however, the exact date in March when Frannie's returned possession to 1561 Irving was not established; and 1561 Irving failed to prove it was "entitled to 250 percent of the last month's rent for the month of March." The court also found Lopez failed to prove she suffered any business losses as a result of "the actions or inactions of the landlord." Thus, the court entered judgment against Lopez in the amount of $1155.31 and dismissed her counterclaim.

On appeal, Lopez argues the trial court's judgment was "unmerited, inequitable, and unfair." We do not agree.

In his oral decision on June 22, 2010, Judge William A. Daniel carefully reviewed the evidence and made detailed findings of fact, which are "supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). Based on those findings, he correctly calculated that 1561 Irving was entitled to a judgment in the amount of $1155.31, and he correctly determined that Lopez was personally liable as guarantor.



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