My question involves landlord-tenant law in the State of: New Jersey
Hi all -
The Short of It: My landlord is making getting my security deposit back a pain - we are approaching the 30 days since we moved out, and I'm irritated by the possibility of this ending up in court, because he has dragged things - like repairs - out in the past.
The Looooonnggg of it: I was on a month to month lease at my old place (supposedly due to past tenant troubles acc. to LL). In mid-January, the LL came to me, and asked for one bedroom of my two bedroom apartment 'back', so that he could have a larger office for his business, which is on the first floor of the building (he already had one room on the floor, and wanted two). He gave me the choice of staying and taking a rent cut, or moving out. I opted to move out, and he offered 3 months time to find a new place. Within two weeks (end of January), I had found a new place where the landlord wanted a mid - Febuary move in. I asked my then-current landlord if he was ok with me leaving mid-February, and he agreed.
I set a final moving date of Feb. 18, and asked if he was ok with paying simply a half month of rent, despite the 3 extra days I would be occupying the space. He agreed, both verbally and via text message (his preferred mode of communication). Fast forward to two weeks ago, I begin asking him about when I can come pick up the security deposit - not demanding anything, just looking for a timeframe. We had agreed to use his business as a meeting/pickup point for any further communication, so I was looking for when I could stop by. I knew he had inspected the apt., because I noticed while driving by, he had already gotten around to setting up his office space in my old room. I should also mention, as far as I know, he only rents out two apts - the one I was living in, and one on the floor above me. He ignored my texts for a few days, responded vaguely a few times ("Yep, gonna do it", etc), until we had finally set up a time (last Friday) to get the check. I sent my roommate, who was also a tenant at this apt, and he stood him up, saying over the phone to one of his employees that he left the check in his locked office upstairs, and couldn't come by right away to bring it down.
I was pretty upset, and, due to suspicions that I have about this rental not being entirely on the up and up, asked him if he even had my money, because he never provided any bank account info. He responded that the check would be ready the next day. This time, I went to pick it up at his buisness - i opened the envelope, and instead of my full deposit back, I found a $150 deduction for the 3 days past Feb. 15 I had stayed, in addition to $3 for missing keys*. Clearly, a spite deduction, given this issue never came up formally, or informally**. I refused to accept the check, and left it at the bar. I was concerned that if I accepted it, I would be accepting those terms, which I won't.
My roomate and I have both been attempting to contact him and get him to speak with us about this - we've told him that if we don't get our full deposit back within 30 days, we're going to invoke the New Jersey RSDA (security deposit act), and we've even sent him two certified letters saying so at the begining of this week. The most response we got from him in the last few days was as request for our new address, which we decined to give him - I'm nervous now that this has escalated a bit- and stated that we want to continue to contact him and recieve things through his business the way that we've been doing - he never responded to that. He just responded to a request made this afternoon for return of deposit in full with "Adress Please?", which I feel like is a trick. Am I obligated to provide it now that he asking 22 days into this process?
The other aspect of this is that I'm not sure if our apt. is even a legal rental - which I'm concerned may pose problems if we sue.
-The post office refused to forward our mail, which came through my LL's business, not mailboxes, citing our address to be a business address.
-The lease was month to month, which someone pointed out to me may have been because of a zoning or C of O issue we were unaware of.
-My LL's contractor let slip that he was paying for a major repair a few months ago out of pocket, and not through insurance, which seemed odd -was he concerned that adjusters were going to come, and see people living there?
-I am 99% he deposited the Security Deposit into his personal or business accounts - the checks (yes, thats right, he wrote a separate one for an arbitrary interest amount) were not bank checks.
He also, for some reason, had me sign an "owner occupied residence" lease - but he himself doesn't occupy the building, only his business does. As I understand "owner occupied" in NJ, it means it is the landlord's primary residence, not just a place he spends time at sometimes. At the time of signing, it didn't catch my eye, but now that I'm doing some research, that seems kind of odd.
There's so much to this, my head is spinning - as of now, he's been pretty uncommunicative the last few days - no response to voicemails or texts. I'm just trying to do my best not to make a miss-step in case this goes to court - I don't want to waste my time, or lose my money. Have I done anything wrong? Was it a bad move not to accept the compromised amount he was trying to return? Is there anything I should be doing in the next few days (30 days is up on March 19th) to prepare myself in case we're going to court?
Any words of wisdom would be much appreciated - Ive done small claims court before, and I just know how important it is to have your ducks in a row, as they say.
Thanks in advance to anyone who can help!
*The keys charge is one of the most ridiculous parts of this - he asked my roomate and I to leave our keys downstairs at his business when we were done moving - we absolutely did, and he even has visual proof - he has security cameras that would have my roomate and a friend handing them to one of his employees.
**He cashed one of our February rent checks AFTER we had moved out on the 18th. If he was displeased, he should have noted that before cashing the check.