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NJ - Tenant trying to claim relocation expenses!

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What is the name of your state? NJ

My father purchased a single family home that he converted to a two family, drew up leases and rented out to two tenants. He for the most part followed the advice of his girlfriend, instead of hiring an attorney like I kept suggesting. Now it seems that it has caught up to him in a very bad way. The first problem, when he divided the house he never had the heater adjusted for the new configuration, so there was consistent complaining from both tenants. One way too hot, the other way too cold. Both tenants have on multiple occasions withheld their rent and sent certified letters demanding the heat be fixed (providing minimum temperatures according to state law) or they would continue rent withholding. The problem is every time things like this would happen, my father would get more and more enraged and would respond with threats of eviction, late fees, etc. But to get his money, he would eventually go down in the basement, do some "tweaking" and collect his rent. On top of this, there were other repair issues that he either refused to fix, or took way too long to fix, which made more certified letters pile up from both tenants. And as always, he would simply respond by getting more angry, and sending more threatening letters. He even sent the tenants a bill for excessive heat usage, despite the fact that heat is included in the lease. I'm sure most lawyers who are reading this are really shaking their heads right now, well we're just getting started.

Finally the breaking point after the tenants were complaining about the heat. A final certified letter stating that rent was being withheld indefinitely, and that the landlord should file an eviction for non payment so they can initiate a habitability hearing. The tenants are now claiming they want to appeal to the court for rent abatement due to their continued inconveniences. Now this is my father and I love the man, but I do not disagree with them. I have on may occasions been in both units, have tested the temperatures with my IR thermometer and have registered temperatures as low as the 50s. I have pleaded with my father to stop thinking of these people as tenants, and instead look at them as customers, and just fix the damn problems!

Well the tenants didn't only send letters, they also reached out to the local health department, which in turn triggered code enforcement. My father received a letter from the township stating that he has 30 days to convert the property back to a single family home, and that a variance will not be approved due to the zone the home is located in. It also says that they reserve the right to refer this to the local municipal court. So it seems that my father is being told that he has to remove his tenants, because the occupancy is illegal. He is going to face a ton of fines. Not one single construction permit or inspection despite all of the major structural changes, no zoning, no variances, not a single official thing.

The tenants have now sent new letters stating that they are aware that eventually they are going to be evicted because of the illegal occupancy, and that they are due 6 times the monthly rent in relocation expenses to be paid in advance 5 days before they are removed. When I first read this I thought, you have to be kidding me, there is no way anything like this even remotely exists.

Then I found this:
https://www.lsnjlaw.org/Housing/Relocation-Assistance/Pages/What-is-Relocation-Assistance-and-How-Can-You-Get-It.aspx

This is the part that I suppose they are referring to:
Tenants living in illegal apartments that violate the town’s zoning laws cannot be evicted unless they receive relocation assistance from the landlord (or the town, if it has a special law) in the amount of six times the monthly rent. This money must be paid to the tenant at least five days before the tenant is evicted. Cite: N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(g) or 2A:18-61.1(h); Kona Miah v. Ahmed, 179. N.J. 511 (2004).

This is nothing short of frightening. To be honest my father barely has the money to pay for an attorney at this point. And we just found out that because he did this under an LLC, he is not allowed to represent himself. He wants to file eviction for non-payment cases but can't even afford to do that. I know the clock is ticking, and I am sure that eventually the township is going to be able to force his hand.

Is my father going to really have to shell out thousands of dollars to pay these tenants off before they are even evicted? Can he at least keep their security deposits? Or does he have to give them that too? I know this sounds bad but is there a way out of all of this? I don't think the tenants have lawyers, but I have to say that these letters they are sending seem to be well crafted, so I think they know their way around the law.
 


Shadowbunny

Queen of the Not-Rights
Your dad cooked his own goose. Had he not been such an awful LL the tenants may have been willing to negotiate the move-out fees. But since he chose to be a nightmare of an illegal LL, his negotiating power is probably nil. And since it sounds like he's a bully, he's probably not the right person to try to negotiate with them.

If they won't agree to a lower amount, then he better hire an attorney.
 

adjusterjack

Senior Member
Is my father going to really have to shell out thousands of dollars to pay these tenants off before they are even evicted?
Sure looks that way.

Can he at least keep their security deposits?
No. The tenants have done nothing for which a security deposit can be withheld.

is there a way out of all of this?
There might be. It's called "cash for keys." Your father is between a rock and a hard place. The only thing I see that might be remotely in his favor is that the tenants don't appear to want to initiate litigation. They want your father to be the bad guy so they can appear to be sympathetic victims in front of a judge. New Jersey is a tenant friendly state.

I suggest that your father meet with the tenants, eat crow, and figure out how much to pay them that will avoid litigation which could be costly to them, too.

Like the old oil filter commercial he can pay them now or he can pay them later. But pay them he will. He might be able to mitigate his costs somewhat if he settles with them now.
 
Your advice is very good, and basically exactly what I have been saying. I told him "throw yourself on their mercy, cry your eyes out, beg, make them offers, anything you can do". No offense to anyone but he's an ex-marine, they don't like to lose.

In regards to the tenants not wanting litigation. The one tenant flat out told him to hurry up and file a non-payment eviction complaint, he said he wants to get it going so he can deposit all of his withheld rent with the court and ask for a habitability hearing. He said he has tons of photos of thermometers in each of the rooms where he logged the temperatures, plus photos and video of other things I didn't mention on there that were issues as well. He flat out said "the only way you are going to see any money from me is if you take me to eviction court, in which I am going to petition for a habitability hearing to seek rent abatement". This one tenant seems smarter than most, almost like he's done this kind of thing before. He spoke to a few attorneys and he didn't seem to happy with those conversations, especially when it came to the part about cost and that nobody really knows how much this could cost as far as their fees and defending a habitability case, followed by the code enforcement violation. My fear is he will hire an attorney and just end up paying way more than he really needed, or perhaps I am wrong on that. Well, he has to do it one way or the other, because he's an LLC and he's already been told that the only way any of this is happening is by the hands of an attorney.

I'm going to try to get him to look at this forum, he needs to see that other people with some sense have a wildly different opinion that he has.
 

adjusterjack

Senior Member
he's an LLC and he's already been told that the only way any of this is happening is by the hands of an attorney.
That's right.

Landlord/tenant matters are handled in the landlord/tenant section of the Special Civil Part of the NJ superior Court. According to the court's FAQs:

"A landlord or a tenant that is a corporation, limited liability corporation or limited partnership must be represented by a New Jersey attorney in all matters filed in the Landlord/Tenant Section. No landlord or tenant that is one of these kinds of business entities may send a representative other than a New Jersey licensed lawyer or other court permitted lawyer to court."
https://www.njcourts.gov/forms/11483_landlord_tenant_faq.pdf

The average cost of a lawyer is about $300 per hour and a retainer is almost certainly going to be required which could be anywhere from $1000 and up. Your father could very well spend thousands just on lawyer fees to fight a losing battle.

This one tenant seems smarter than most, almost like he's done this kind of thing before.
Maybe. But he wouldn't have to have done it at all were it not for the landlord's behavior.
 

Just Blue

Senior Member
Your advice is very good, and basically exactly what I have been saying. I told him "throw yourself on their mercy, cry your eyes out, beg, make them offers, anything you can do". No offense to anyone but he's an ex-marine, they don't like to lose.

In regards to the tenants not wanting litigation. The one tenant flat out told him to hurry up and file a non-payment eviction complaint, he said he wants to get it going so he can deposit all of his withheld rent with the court and ask for a habitability hearing. He said he has tons of photos of thermometers in each of the rooms where he logged the temperatures, plus photos and video of other things I didn't mention on there that were issues as well. He flat out said "the only way you are going to see any money from me is if you take me to eviction court, in which I am going to petition for a habitability hearing to seek rent abatement". This one tenant seems smarter than most, almost like he's done this kind of thing before. He spoke to a few attorneys and he didn't seem to happy with those conversations, especially when it came to the part about cost and that nobody really knows how much this could cost as far as their fees and defending a habitability case, followed by the code enforcement violation. My fear is he will hire an attorney and just end up paying way more than he really needed, or perhaps I am wrong on that. Well, he has to do it one way or the other, because he's an LLC and he's already been told that the only way any of this is happening is by the hands of an attorney.

I'm going to try to get him to look at this forum, he needs to see that other people with some sense have a wildly different opinion that he has.
Your father is 100% in the wrong. He should NOT be taking issue with the tenants.
 
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He is hard headed. Another thing he has been doing is trying everything to make it seem like all of the issues taking place were the tenants fault. He would cook up some scenario, then send them certified letters informing them they were violating their leases and "causing the issue", claiming that issues caused by tenants are not his responsibility. A good example, eventually the tenants took it upon themselves to make small adjustments to the dampers to try and get things working better with the heat. So his response was to send a letter stating they violated their lease and made unauthorized adjustments, whatever that is supposed to be.

Sure, I don't think the tenants should have touched anything, but at the same time are tenants expected to simply just do nothing if something is not rectified? I personally cannot blame them, they obviously reached a point where they decided the only way to get anywhere was to take matters into their own hands. He sends these letters and even adds money to rent due claiming "repair expenses". I fear that my father doesn't understand that if he goes to court, he will have to PROVE all of these claims. He is desperately trying to paint a picture for when he gets to court, I think he wants to try to swing the judge into believing these are tenants from hell. I have to say this, he would have been one hell of a politician I'll tell you what! Deny, deny, deny, no matter how much evidence exists.

He doesn't just need an attorney, but I think he needs a good hardass one that will physically smack him across the head and say "listen to me!"
 

Just Blue

Senior Member
He is hard headed. Another thing he has been doing is trying everything to make it seem like all of the issues taking place were the tenants fault. He would cook up some scenario, then send them certified letters informing them they were violating their leases and "causing the issue", claiming that issues caused by tenants are not his responsibility. A good example, eventually the tenants took it upon themselves to make small adjustments to the dampers to try and get things working better with the heat. So his response was to send a letter stating they violated their lease and made unauthorized adjustments, whatever that is supposed to be.

Sure, I don't think the tenants should have touched anything, but at the same time are tenants expected to simply just do nothing if something is not rectified? I personally cannot blame them, they obviously reached a point where they decided the only way to get anywhere was to take matters into their own hands. He sends these letters and even adds money to rent due claiming "repair expenses". I fear that my father doesn't understand that if he goes to court, he will have to PROVE all of these claims. He is desperately trying to paint a picture for when he gets to court, I think he wants to try to swing the judge into believing these are tenants from hell. I have to say this, he would have been one hell of a politician I'll tell you what! Deny, deny, deny, no matter how much evidence exists.

He doesn't just need an attorney, but I think he needs a good hardass one that will physically smack him across the head and say "listen to me!"
He's a grown man...let him deal with the financial fallout from his really, REALLY stupid decisions. Don't lend/give him money for an attorney. ;)
 

LdiJ

Senior Member
Yeah, I don't think that's going to work out quite the way he may be envisioning it. You sound sane -- perhaps you just need let to Dad face his own consequences.
Yep, I am thinking that dad definitely needs to face his own consequences. It was sheer madness to create unpermitted living space and rent it out. To treat your tenants that way on top of things is utter idiocy.
 

xylene

Senior Member
Tenant's are allowed to adjust vents in their own apartments. A landlord who doesn't want vents adjusted needs to install fixed vents.

Frankly, your dad is a disgrace to landlording and is why small landlords enjoy a terrible repuation. His conduct was exactly, exactly why permit laws are strict on this very issue.

Honestly selling the house at a fire sale might be his best and only way out if he is already broke.

Lastly, being a ex marine... don't even play that card. There is no special exemption for being a fussy stickler drill instructor over nothing while flaunting rules that everyone knows. Everyone knows you can't just create a 2 family house. And an ex marine starting a property rental business would know it for sure. He chose to operate like this and big losses are the price he rightly pays.
 

Gail in Georgia

Senior Member
Your father is soon likely to learn that New Jersey is an EXTREMELY tenant friendly state (the idea of owning rental property there strikes fear into the hearts of many out of state landlords).

If dad is as stubborn as you write this is likely the only way he will learn the mistakes he has made.

Gail
 
Just reading the first part of the posting and I believe your father purchased the property with the rather rose tinted perception that the renters would be wonderful people and all he had to do was sit back and take the money.
Unfortunately this is the real world which protects the renters far more than the landlord, and many renters know this.
He may have chosen the wrong sort of business to invest in.
 

not2cleverRed

Obvious Observer
Just reading the first part of the posting and I believe your father purchased the property with the rather rose tinted perception that the renters would be wonderful people and all he had to do was sit back and take the money.
Unfortunately this is the real world which protects the renters far more than the landlord, and many renters know this.
He may have chosen the wrong sort of business to invest in.
For all we know, these tenants may indeed be sane, wonderful people.

Dad converted a single family into an illegal 2 family unit, with no way of individually units adjusting heat, and people were stuck with 50F indoor temps. Now, I can be pretty fugal, but 50F is 15F lower than what President Carter tried convincing us we should turn our thermostats *down* to. It is unreasonable.

Dad is trying to charge the tenants for repairs regardless of whether the tenants caused the situation causing the repairs.
 
Just reading the first part of the posting and I believe your father purchased the property with the rather rose tinted perception that the renters would be wonderful people and all he had to do was sit back and take the money.
Unfortunately this is the real world which protects the renters far more than the landlord, and many renters know this.
He may have chosen the wrong sort of business to invest in.
You know what is funny, and I have to admit this despite my close relationship with my father. These tenants are wonderful people, actually I don't think he could be any more lucky. First of all, they literally keep the property in pristine condition, no lease violations, no cops being called, no loud parties, nothing. Just a couple of young professionals who keep to themselves. With all of the problems they have shown a ridiculous level of patience, fighting about the heat for a year until they finally took some action. I would think most tenants would be pricks about the situation and start with certified letters and threats at the first sign of problems. One tenant even offered to help the landlord "figure it out" and even offered to put in some labor and do some of the work himself, just to be a nice guy. My father's response was "sure you can do the work, and you can pay for it as well, there is nothing wrong with the heat".

I don't have any experience but I am sure there are worse tenants out there, like ones who deal drugs, beat their wives or kids, have loud parties, or even punch holes in the walls. The biggest hole these people made was a few small nails to hang some pictures up. I have washed my hands and due to my own conscience as well as the good advice on here I won't be lending him any money. The only exception will be if he decides to simply cut his losses and sell the property, which is obviously the only viable option at this point. If he chooses to sell the house, I will help him, but that will be the only situation.

I like the cash for keys idea, that sounds like a fast way to get the tenants moved on, avoid eviction court, avoid further code violations and accompanying fines. As for me I will NEVER be a landlord, no thanks. Plenty of other more safer ways to make it in this world.
 
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