NJ tenant rights: how do I get my security deposit back?
July 24, 2013 6:27 AM   Subscribe

After renting a room for almost 2 years, I broke the lease 1.5 months early (gave 1.5 months notice). I ensured that someone else was going to move into my room 1 week after I move out (so my landlord only has a 1 week gap in receiving rent checks). It's been almost 2 months and my landlord hasn't sent me my deposit, and is saying he will only give me 1/2 of it back. Details inside...

My security deposit was 2 months rent. 30 days after I moved out, I e-mailed my landlord (for the 3rd time!) asking for my deposit back. He finally replied and said since I broke the lease I will only be receiving 1/2 of the deposit back (he will be keeping 1 months rent). I wrote back to him saying that he cannot do that, since I made sure someone was moving into my room 1 week after I moved out. I told him he can keep 1 weeks rent, but should return the rest to me. (I read that even if someone breaks the lease, if they find someone to take their spot, then the landlord can only keep as much money as they would lose during the gap in renting). I sent him a link I found with NJ tenant rights and pointed out some things:

1) He was only supposed to take a 1.5 month security deposit, he had no right to ask for 2 months. I did not know this at the time that I moved in. Yes, I know to read about my rights before signing a lease next time.
2) He was supposed to inform me where he is investing my deposit within 30 days of me moving in. Since he did not do that, I could have used the deposit as rent, so he is lucky he even has a deposit to try to keep (I did not say it in those words)
3) He has no right to keep 1 month of the deposit because someone moved in 1 week after I moved out.
Sources: http://www.lawrev.state.nj.us/landlordtenant/landlordtenantFR021012.pdf

My questions are: Am I reading the legal documents correctly? Are these even legal documents or just some stuff that someone wrote up on the internet?

Some other probably less relevant things that just infuriate me:
1) I have interviewed tenants while I lived at that house so he wouldn't have to make the 1.5-2 hour drive himself.
2) I have cleaned up after a tenant moved out and left the place a mess, so he wouldn't have to fly back from his Florida house to do it himself.
3) The last roommate he chose for me was an alcoholic and aside from the fact that I was not comfortable living with someone who was drunk and crying loudly in her room, I also had to clean up while her grandchildren visited because she was passed out drunk and could not take care of them. I am surprised I lasted THAT LONG into the second year of my lease. It was a crappy living situation.


I know the answer is most likely "Lawyer up!" but I wanted to ask whether I even have a reason to spend money on a lawyer here. Am I reasonable thinking that I should get most of my security deposit back? If yes, then how do I "lawyer up?" What's the process for this? Small claims court? How does this all work? This all took place in Union County, NJ.

I know this is not real legal advice. I just want to know whether I am reading the right documents and interpreting them correctly, and what the next steps are for getting my deposit back.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're right, and your landlord is hoping that you won't have the patience to take him to court. Talk to a lawyer (if you're in or near a college town, there will be one who specializes in landlord-tenant disputes) to see what he or she thinks your odds are of A) winning, and B) collecting.
posted by Etrigan at 6:33 AM on July 24, 2013

Not a lawyer.

The common advice is to send a certified letter (so you have proof of him receiving) and ask for a itemized receipt for the funds that he is keeping. In your first itemized list, (1) and (2) seem irrelevant now, but point out (3) again. The "less relevant" things are irrelevant, unfortunately. You were doing him & your roommate favors, which should count for something, but probably won't.

Does your area have a tenant court outside of small claims? Are there tenant's rights organizations you can consult with? An actual lawyer could easily be more expensive than your losses.
posted by supercres at 6:33 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

No background in law, but if I understand the link correctly (i.e must be paid deposit back within 30 days, limit to 1.5 X deposit, etc.),I will tell you what I did to get my $ back in MA, which had a similar "within 30 days" law.

I did this step upon the advice from a legal service department at my university when I was a grad student.

I wrote a letter stating that if I did not receive my deposit in full within 1 week,I would take legal action. I had a one sentence summary referring to the actual law (must be received within 30 days),which my landlord had also failed. I sent it by certified mail.

Similarly, I know that the person did not put interest on it, but I wanted the bulk of the $ back without a headache. From some of the comments that you make (i.e. this person is out of state, doesn't seem to be aware or compliant with the law), my guess is that the person would comply with your request (i.e.the person who gave me legal advice stated the goal was not to go to court - it would take time).
posted by Wolfster at 6:46 AM on July 24, 2013

I am not a lawyer, but I have broken two leases in NJ.

Did you sign a lease? What were the terms of the lease -- when I broke one, I lost my entire deposit, regardless of whether or not someone moved in.

When I broke the second one, I got my full deposit back, because there was a clause in the lease allowing you to break if you were moving for work more than 50 miles.

However, in neither case did I have to pay rent until the end of my lease, which is what I would have to do if I broke my lease in TX.
posted by hrj at 7:12 AM on July 24, 2013

I used to be a landlord; this is BS. Find the legal aid office in your area - they can help you write a letter to the landlord. If that isn't promptly successful, go to small claims court.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2013

Certified letter demanding deposit, then small claims court.

I don't know every detail of NJ landlord/tenant law and I don't know if breaking your lease forfeits your deposit, but I do know that *IF* the court determines that your landlord did not have a legal right to keep your deposit that the penalty is *TREBLE* damages. In other words, triple the amount of the deposit kept by your landlord is awarded to you by the court.
posted by de void at 1:09 PM on July 24, 2013

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