From an unpublished Appellate Division opinion, we have another example of a pro se litigant's inexperience with the legal process costing him possession of his premises and possibly $30,000. (*Pro se means those who forgo attorney representation and chose to represent themselves in court.)
This landlord, appearing pro se, brought an eviction action against a commercial tenant. At trial the landlord appears to have not properly entered the written lease into evidence and appears to have failed in fleshing out the terms of the lease. As such, the tenant admitted evidence of what appeared to be certain repair receipts undertaken and which the tenant claimed were expenditures which must reduce the rental payment obligations. (Known as a Marini hearing in NJ). The landlord lost his case at trial and the tenant remained in the property.
On appeal, the landlord asserted - for the first time - the fact that the terms of the lease required the tenant to make those repairs and therefore those receipts for repairs should not have reduced the rental payment obligation. The Appellate Division declined to review new or novel arguments on appeal which were not raised at trial. This means the landlord lost again.
The good news is that the landlord still has the option to file a legal action in the law division seeking those monies be paid to him based upon the terms on the lease (which is a contract), and contract suits must be filed within six years of the date whereon the breach occurred. It will be an uphill battle for this landlord but the lesson here is spending a little bit for attorneys fees (which should be recoupable per terms in any lease!) could have led to a positive result including eviction of a non-paying tenant, installation of a good paying tenant, and recovery of almost $30,000.
Jongho Jung v. Freds Bagels LLC, BER-LT-542-21; A-1494-21 (1/17/23)
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Peter J. Vazquez, Jr.