Legal Question in Real Estate Law in New Jersey

Certificate of occupancy

My previous landlord rented his property to us without a lease for 4 years. After suing us for backed rent we came to find out that the entire time we lived there the house was uninspected and he never filed for a Certificate of Occupancy. We are under the asumption that he was not allowed to collect rent from us the entire 4 years. He also did not put our security deposit in an interest bearing account. Can we sue him and how do we go about doing it??

Asked on 7/16/02, 11:42 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Kevin Begley Kevin J. Begley - Attorney at Law
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Re: Certificate of occupancy

You are correct that with out a C.O., a landlord is not entitled to rent on the property. Additionally, he is subject to sanctions by the court for failing to put your security in an escrow account. Now, the question is, can you get your prior rent back, or are you just entitled to use the lack of a C.O. to avoid future payments, and what sanction will the court impose, if any, for failing to put your security deposit in an escrow account (if indeed they failed to do that), or if they failed to give you the required notice.

I suspect that you will not be entitled to your past rent, but that does not mean that I would not file a complaint demanding the back rent, for the lack of the C.O.. I suspect the judge will look to see if the place was in good condition and the lack of a C.O. was because the place would not be able to get a C.O., or if they just failed to get it (a technical violation). He may sanction them for failing to tell you where your security deposit is, but unless they are using the money, he may choose not to any more than slap their hand. Before this goes anywhere, send separate letters, 1) demanding a statement as to where your ssecurity deposit is, and 2) a letter demanding a copy of the C.O. for the premesis, because you were informed that he has no C.O..

ALSO, check the township to see if th eplace is registered as a rental unit. If the place is over 2 living units, check with the township & county to see if the place is properly registered and has passed inspection as a multi-unit dwelling.

If they do not send you a notice of where your security deposit is, then send them a letter saying that they are in violation of the law, and that you will not be paying rent until they produce proof that your money has been in an escrow account, where it is and how much it is.

On the C.O., basically the same, refuse to pay until you are give proof that they have it, but PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING, even your conversations ("This letter is to memorialize our discussion today where you stated X Y Z, and my position was A B C.").

In court, they will try to argue (if they can) that any violations are technical in nature or de minimis (small), and that to give you money back would be a windfall to you, as you derrived the benefit you expected, a place to live.

I'd tell him you spoke with an attorney, and try to work out a deal. Don't be greedy, as this IS a windfall to you. Perhaps they will waive your rent for a period of time, or agree to give you some money back, or fix up the place (carpet?, paint?, etc.) and do something that will lower your monthly costs, like new windows if you need them.

If this gets too complicated for you, call a lawyer, it will be worth it.

Good luck to you.

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Answered on 7/17/02, 4:49 pm

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