On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County, Docket No. SC-170-12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 11, 2012
Before Judges Yannotti and Harris.
Defendant Hedy J. Salvio appeals from the January 23, 2012 judgment in favor of plaintiff Joseph Luna following a bench trial in the Small Claims Division of the Special Civil Part. We affirm.
We derive the facts from the pleadings, trial testimony, and exhibits. Salvio is the owner of a two-family dwelling located in Wallington. On October 28, 2010, Luna and Vanessa Diaz*fn1 executed a "Twelve Months Rental Agreement" (the lease) with Salvio for the rear first-floor, one-bedroom apartment at the premises together with "an assigned section of [the basement] for [s]torage." By its terms, the lease commenced on November 1, 2010, and would automatically renew (with a monthly rent increase of $25) one year later, unless terminated by either party "by giving to the other party not less than two full month's notice in writing."
The lease required the payment of rent of $875 per month and called for a security deposit of $1312.50, which was paid by Luna. Additionally, pursuant to a separate "Pet Agreement," Luna posted a $400 "Pets Fee" deposit with Salvio, which permitted two dogs to live in the apartment.*fn2 The "Pet Agreement" provided that the deposit "will be returned to the Tenants within 30 days after they have proved that they no longer keep this [sic] pets or when they vacate the apartment." In August 2011, Luna advised Salvio that he was having difficulty paying the rent and inquired about terminating the lease. Before Luna could follow-up, Hurricane Irene struck New Jersey on August 28, 2011, causing significant flooding that damaged the first-floor apartment, the basement, and its contents.
On September 5, 2011, Luna sent a letter to Salvio, which
stated, among other things, that he "intended to vacate the
premises on or before . . . [October 31, 2011]." The letter
further described the impact of Hurricane Irene:
Because of the natural disaster of Hurricane Irene that occurred on [August 28, 2011,] I could no longer live on the premises. The flooding caused the destruction of all my belongings and left the apartment in an unsuitable condition to live in. I have cleaned the apartment and have removed my personal belongings and [will] turn in my keys on or before [September 15, 2011].
Lastly, Luna wrote, "I would appreciate the return of my security deposit within [thirty] days after I have vacated my apartment." He provided a ...