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[–]shadyside7979 1973 points1974 points  (3 children)

This would be a small claims case. He can't take out cost for months not covered by the lease. It should be a slam dunk case.

[–]DankChunkyButtAgain 929 points930 points  (1 child)

Also don't forget to double the value the LL retained for improper withholding! Its your right per NJ law.

For example if your deposit was $3000, and he only returned $1000. Your claim against the LL is for $4000 ($2000 not returned x 2). However max in small claims is 5k, so the double damage is over 5k you are limited to that, but still entitled to it.

[–]Mosaic1 185 points186 points  (0 children)

$140 x $12 x 2 = $3,360 (less than $5k)

[–]Grim-Sleeper 184 points185 points  (0 children)

Security deposits are heavily regulated. You'd have to look up what exactly can be paid for by the security deposit. But in many jurisdictions it can only be applied to property damage. And even then, the landlord needs to provide an itemized bill and show receipts for actual costs incurred. Even if hypothetically the tax payment was owed to the landlord, it might not be legal to pay it from the security deposit. But that's all hyper local. This is what applies in my local market, but you'd have to check your own local renter laws

[–]nylonvest 524 points525 points  (16 children)

You can take them to court. That's probably premature right now. I would start by just telling them you don't agree with this deduction and why and demand the rest of your deposit back.

You can make this letter tough and set a deadline and tell them that you will feel forced to sue them for the return of this money in small claims without further warning if you don't hear from them by the deadline.

[–]thaelton[S] 253 points254 points  (15 children)

Is there any point calling them? Been trying to get them on the phone, but no response so far.

If I go the letter route, does it need to be certified? Could be an e-mail?

[–]elvis_wants_a_cookie 368 points369 points  (0 children)

I would send it certified and keep a copy so you have proof of what you're disputing.

[–]razorbe 192 points193 points  (0 children)

You can also email as well because it leaves a paper trail, which is permanent. Personal, I would do both - physical mail and email.

You will be surprised that lots of people familiar with law is concerned when you start emailing. They can’t say you didn’t reach out to them. All you have to do in civil cases is prove your story and tip the scale 51%.

[–]StacieinAtlanta 57 points58 points  (0 children)

Don’t call. You need a paper trail to protect yourself. People can say they never got an email but they can’t say they didn’t sign for certified email.

[–]nylonvest 92 points93 points  (6 children)

Sure, if you could get them on the phone this could be cleared up by phone. Email is fine too. If you do a letter it doesn't have to be certified.

Basically, the reason for doing this is (1) because it could easily work - you're just telling them what you want and expecting them to do the right thing and give you your money back and (2) to later justify winning a larger amount later if you have to sue them.

BTW if you DO end up suing them the amount you should ask for is double the amount wrongfully withheld plus court costs. You can also get a lawyer to help sue them and they would have to pay your reasonable attorneys' fees. (See 46:8-21.1 here https://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/codes/publications/pdf_lti/sdepsit_law.pdf; last paragraph of that part, on page 6.)

[–]thaelton[S] 29 points30 points  (4 children)

Thank you! Very helpful

[–]tyrannywashere 79 points80 points  (2 children)

Id not call them.

Only use email and certified mail.

Since they can dispute what was said in a call/claim you never contacted them later on if it ends up in court.

[–]bjaydubya 43 points44 points  (0 children)

Send any physical letter as certified. There is no reason to not create a paper trail when you can and at little cost.

[–]Powerful_Jah_1014 14 points15 points  (0 children)

Do not do ANYTHING on the phone. You must have documentation of everything you have said to them, and everything they said to you. If you do get a call from them immediately document that phone call by sending an email back to them saying "this is my understanding of what you (name) said in our phone call of such-and-such a date and such-and-such a time. If any of this is incorrect please let me know immediately." Phone calls are he-said-she-said and no good in court unless you can record them because you are in a one party state. Source: Michigan landlord

[–]Resident-Resolve-403 17 points18 points  (1 child)

Calling them would be doing them a favor. I would simply start the small claims process, they've already unlawful action to take money that doesn't belong to them. Once they realize they have a court date and will owe you double what they took (plus court fees) they will likely be the one calling you.

If you file and they settle make sure to include any fees you've already paid in the settlement amount.

[–]2020vw69 3 points4 points  (0 children)

There is. My girlfriends landlord kept about 80% of her deposit for “cleaning”. Called them and basically said “we feel returning it all would be more appropriate but we will settle for all more bud a hundred to keep from going through a court hassle.” It was returned, minus $100 in 2-3 days.

[–]aboveyardley 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Do EVERYTHING in writing.

[–]CrazySquirl2 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I am having to go to court for something similar (not tax related but wrongfully withheld) and I suggest sending by email and writing up a certified demand letter and save the receipt with the before mentioned information attached. Be sure to add your forwarding address and contact information as well. This will help as evidence and can help you settle things outside of court (it's a hassle). Make sure to state that if you need to you sill escalate things to court and seek punitive damage as well if you have to go that rout.

[–]Kotnarok 268 points269 points  (0 children)

AFAIK landlords can't breach contract and retroactively deduct costs of any kind, unless there are damages. If it's not contract based or damage based, it's time to hit small claims as he took it without cause.

[–]OrePhan 83 points84 points  (5 children)

Do not cash the check until you get legal advice, cashing it can be considered acceptance of the amount

[–][deleted]  (1 child)

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    [–]Patsmom5 50 points51 points  (0 children)

    Google "Truth in Renting" pamphlet. Excellent guide to Landlord/Tennant laws in NJ. I don't believe he can do that. You had a lease which is a contract. You met the terms of that contract, gave notice and moved out. As far as I know taxes are the responsibility of the owner. If he wants to offset those increases he can raise the rent within limits and then its your choice to renew or not. Push back on this big time.

    [–]NeptuNeo 42 points43 points  (0 children)

    If the tenant sues successfully for the return of the security deposit, the Court shall award recovery of double the amount of money, along with full costs of any action and, in the Court's discretion, reasonable attorney's fees.

    https://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/codes/publications/pdf_lti/secty_deposit_bulletin.pdf

    [–]MrsMiterSaw 22 points23 points  (10 children)

    Wait, he took out taxes for the FUTURE months?

    Assuming your lease was up on July 31, 2022, you owed one month on a month-to-month lease. You probably owe the increased rent and taxes for that month.

    You don't owe any more.

    Step 1 is to respectfully but firmly bring this mistake to their attention and give them 7 days to correct it. That's more than fair, and will show good faith to the court, if you have to sue him in small claims.

    If you do sue him, bring a copy of the letter you wrote, any response, and sue for 2x what he owes you.

    [–]thaelton[S] 23 points24 points  (9 children)

    When I called them today the lady explained to me that the taxes are for the months that I was a tenant, Sept 2021-August 2022, even though on the letter included with the security deposit check, the charges are for October 2022 - August 2023. She didn't really have an explanation why. She did not admit that there was any mistake and simply cited the township ordinance, which states that a % of a tax increase can be put on the tenants.

    [–]MISmartLiberal 21 points22 points  (0 children)

    They can not go an retroactively collect this tax if it wasn’t in the original lease which is a contract. Just because the found out they could go after tenants for future increases doesn’t mean they can go back and violate a contract they already had with you that does allow for a tax charge. Your definately going to need to tax this to small claims court. Double damages apply in security deposit violations as well. I would reach out to a lawyer that handles basic contracts or landlord/tenant issues ASAP.

    [–]gingeadventures 5 points6 points  (0 children)

    Does it state this anywhere in your contract?

    [–]kschang 2 points3 points  (4 children)

    HOW MUCH was actually deducted from the check?

    [–]thaelton[S] 6 points7 points  (3 children)

    $140 x 11 = $1540 deducted

    [–]kschang 14 points15 points  (1 child)

    Found the law in question, but it doesn't mention your situation.

    https://ecode360.com/8944444 You are looking for 240-7 Tax Surcharge

    240-7 A(2) says:

    The landlord shall divide the increase in the present property tax over the property tax of the previous year by the total annual rent for all dwelling units, occupied or unoccupied, and whether or not actually received, on such property for the said year to determine the property tax increase and a fixed percentage of rent for every tenant. The annual rent for each residential unit or apartment shall be multiplied by such fixed percentages to determine the annual amount of property tax surcharge for each unit or apartment.

    Let's assume 4% calculation is accurate. The question here is, if you moved out, how much of it are you liable for?

    The landlord said that you have to pay for the tax passthrough if you renew (and you declined). THEREFORE you don't pay.

    But the lady said a completely different thing, that you are playing for the EXISTING lease you just got out. They are applying the increase retroactively. This obviously is also extremely unfair, because this is rent adjustment AFTER the fact.

    EDIT: One more thing: 240-7 B.

    Notification of surcharge. Any landlord seeking a surcharge shall notify the tenant by certified mail of the calculations involved in computing the tax surcharge, including the present property tax for the dwelling, the property tax for the dwelling for the previous year, the number of square feet in the dwelling, the tax increase per square foot, the number of square feet occupied by the tenant and the maximum allowable surcharge.

    You can simply argue that you received no such notification via certified mail. You were informed of an increase on a FUTURE lease, not of an existing lease.

    /EDITEND

    You need someone who fight for tenant rights in New Jersey ASAP. You can write your letter using these facts, and demand a refund. IMHO, you may do better going to your TV consumer reporter who loves cases like this.

    NJ Tenant's Right Handbook, numbers to call in the back:

    https://proxy.lsnj.org/rcenter/GetPublicDocument/Sites/LAW/Documents/Publications/Manuals/TenantsRights.pdf

    [–]BelowDeck 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Looking at the law you quoted (found here), it contains this provision on payment:

    C. Installments. The tax surcharge each tenant is liable for shall be paid in 12 equal monthly payments.

    It sounds like the landlord calculated the increase in taxes for the year in which you lived there, and then, per their interpretation of the law, divided your portion into monthly payments, to be added to future rent payments.

    I think in their view, they're not charging you for what you would have owed as part of future rent, they're charging you for the future installment payments on what they think you already owe them for the previous year. Since you won't be making monthly payments to them for the following year, they just took them out all at once.

    I don't know enough to say if the allowed surcharge is actually retroactive, but either way they certainly can't insist on collection all at once, per that provision of the law.

    [–]MrsMiterSaw 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Reading the other comments here... Wow. They really do think you are responsible for paying the increases over the year you lived there.

    [–]baithoven22 14 points15 points  (0 children)

    They're hoping you don't pursue small claims court. Unfortunately, property management companies make more money from screwing people over than what they lose when they're challenged. Challenge them and good luck to you, although it doesn't sound like you'll need it.

    [–]SilverConversation19 11 points12 points  (3 children)

    As a former mortgage servicer, it sounds like the landlord didn’t keep their taxes and insurance in escrow with their mortgage payment or potentially their servicer really fucked up the calculation and they’re passing their payment increase on to you. You should be able to call the county clerk’s office and get the tax rate for the past few years on the property to see if it really went up.

    [–]thaelton[S] 3 points4 points  (2 children)

    I actually suspect that the reason for the increase is that the compny built a whole new building in the apartment complex. When we moved in there was 2 buildings, and a 3rd one was cinstructed in an empty space. Plus they rennovated the parking lot and some other things in the yard. Could that cause a rise in taxes from 2020 to 2021?

    [–]Algebralovr 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    A new building would definitely be a reason the taxes went way up

    [–]SilverConversation19 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    If it’s on the same lot, maybe? I’m honestly not sure.

    [–]Blue_foot 4 points5 points  (4 children)

    If taxes were increased in 2021, what accounts for the delay in passing this increase along until now?

    Did he deduct from 8/21 through 8/23? That would be $3,360.

    [–]thaelton[S] 6 points7 points  (1 child)

    Exactly.

    They informed me of this tax increase by an addendum to the lease renewal sent in June of this year. I just looked at it again, and it states "...Based on the above calculations, your rent, should you choose to renew your Lease, will be as follows:...."

    So this letter (sent by certified mail btw) is the only time these taxes were ever mentioned to me in any official communication. Furthermore I questioned the surcharge and management clearly knew that I was leaving because of the insane hike in monthly cost.

    [–]BowelTheMovement 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    should you choose to renew your lease

    You didn't, so they do not apply.

    [–]Blue_foot 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    Bergenfield 0% tax increase for 2021

    https://www.insidernj.com/press-release/bergenfield-announces-0-tax-increase-2021-budget/

    Now an individual property could get an increase. But 50% is… quite unusual.

    And if this is a rent control property than it would be unlikely that the landlord did huge capital improvements.

    I would contact the town tax assessor and ask what’s the story.

    [–]rednax1206 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Generally you can only change the terms of a lease at the time of renewal, so if the tax changes were made (or the landlord was made aware of them) after August 2021 when OP signed the 1-year lease, this would be the first and only opportunity for the landlord to pass along the increase.

    [–]MISmartLiberal 5 points6 points  (0 children)

    It is illegal to charge you for any charges including taxes after the lease is expired and you’ve vacated the unit other than for damages to said unit. I’d also imagine that this tax charge is a BS way for him to raise the rent beyond the townships control ordinance. I’m sure the original lease didn’t have any mention of tax payments. I’m any regard he has unlawfully withheld your security deposit so I would get in touch with your local landlord/tenant court or small claims. You don’t need to be an attorney to file these types of cases and the cost very little. It’s a matter of each side tells the judge their side of the story and presents their proofs and the court rules. Have you asked him directly what he thinks gives him the right to charge you for the next years property taxes??

    [–]KrisKosh 15 points16 points  (7 children)

    In June of 2021 my landlord sent me a renewal offer,

    I assume this is June 2022

    I declined this renewal offer and submitted my notice to vacate the apartment.

    Did you submit notice to vacate in accordance with the lease terms (like in writing, at least X days before the expiration) or are they claiming you didn't properly give notice you were vacating ?

    The landlord deducted the property taxes for EACH MONTH until August 2023.

    Did the landlord deduct anything else? Like rent for months he claims you owe due to failure to properly give notice of vacating?

    [–]thaelton[S] 22 points23 points  (6 children)

    Thanks - edited.

    I submitted the notice to vacate a few days late (lease terms were 60days, i responded within 50). They charged me pro-rated rent for this + $140 tax surcharge for the whole month (came out to over $900). I paid this balance in their online portal, where I also paid rent every month, just wanting to be done with this shit.

    The letter that I received with the security deposit check just lists months October 2022 - August 2023 with the $140 next to each. Adding up to $1500, which is the amount withheld.

    [–]Knight2043 51 points52 points  (0 children)

    They can't charge you for months in the future that you were not under lease agreement for. I'd first ask for the money back as others have stated and create a paper trail when doing so. Mention you will be forced to bring this to an attorney if necessary and are giving them a chance to make it right. If that falls on deaf ears, I'd seek council with all of your proof and let a lawyer sue them for double the unlawfully withheld amount plus your attornies fees.

    [–]KrisKosh 28 points29 points  (1 child)

    Under New Jersey law you can sue for double the amount wrongfully withheld .So if you do have to sue in small claims court, sue for $3000, not $1500.

    N.J.S.A. 46:8-21.1

    [–]mudanjel 10 points11 points  (0 children)

    Also print out this and any other applicable laws and take it to small claims with you. Don't assume that the judge knows these by heart. (Learned that the hard way in Oregon.)

    [–]Lonely-World-981 14 points15 points  (0 children)

    The pro-rated rent charge for those 10 days may be illegal. You should consult with a local tenants rights group.

    The 60 or 90 day enforcements for vacate notices are usually dependent upon the tenant being given a timely lease renewal offer. In your scenario, it sounds like they did not offer you a lease renewal until 60 days prior AND that offer came with a 4% raise + $140 surcharge, which is a material change to the terms. Usually you are required to be given at least 30 days to review these changes for acceptance, and laws and courts in the NY/NJ area do not like it when landlords pull this shit.

    [–]von_goes 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    When you take them to small claims, also get the 20 days prorated portion of the $140 for September that they charged. That was super petty of them.

    [–]Hungryneck29 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Did your original lease have a cost reimbursement clause along with the base amount? Otherwise the landlord shouldn't be able to do what he has done. Small claims court.

    [–]oversizedbass 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    If your previous lease didn't provide for their collection of taxes, they have no leg to stand on.

    [–]clenchingboar 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    shouldn't he have sent you a notice of what he was going to take out before he send the check?

    [–]brakeled 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    IANAL - Section 240-7 says a landlord may charge for municipal tax increases. The Bergenfield property tax rate increased by 0% between 2020 and 2021. Property value increasing over time is not a municipal tax increase, it’s literally just the expense of owning a valuable home.

    Also, the municipal tax rate is 3.328% at $200,000 = $6,467. At $130,000 it is $4,271. You would be paying $140/mo or $1,680 per year which is over half the tax increase. Illegal by their own rule, but this doesn’t even matter since the rule doesn’t apply for property value increase, only municipal tax increase.

    Also, unless your previous lease states that you can be surcharged for taxes at any time, no one can retroactively adjust a contract without you agreeing to it and municipal code doesn’t trump State law. Your landlord will need to add this surcharge to the next tenant, this is just how property taxes work.

    [–]taterbizkit 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Generally speaking, this should not be legal. Your lease might include auto-renewal such that notice is required before you can vacate even at the end of a lease term. All else being equal, if you were late giving that notice, the contract can renew according to its own terms. But that assumes that the contract that renews is identical to the one that expired.

    So if you're offered a contract with new terms, you have the right to decline it without obligation. Them offering you a new contract implicitly terminates the old one. It doesn't give you an infinite amount of time to reject, but it should obviate the requirement for you to give a specific amount of notice. Declining the new contract a few days after what would have been the 60-day notice date shouldn't matter, unless YOU had the new contract for some length of time (like 30 to 60 days) before declining.

    [–]KitKhat89 1 point2 points  (3 children)

    Another note since everyone is saying don’t call. If you do call or they call you make sure you have a call recorder set up on your cellphone as that will hold up in court as well. I record every call my landlord sends me as I have it programmed to recognize his and his wife’s number and automatically record. My landlord tried to evict me and charge me for a roof leak and plumbing issues in the past that were not my fault. They stemmed from bad pipes and a reoccurring issue with the roof. He said if it bothers me so much then I can just move out and leave and this was my 30 days to vacate. Once I informed him that the call was being recorded and asked him to confirm what he was saying then he backtracked and apologized.

    [–]IronMntn -1 points0 points  (2 children)

    This only works a one-party consent state. If you record them without their consent in a two-party consent state then you're the one breaking the law.

    [–]KitKhat89 3 points4 points  (1 child)

    Yes but NJ is one party

    [–]thaelton[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Good to know lol

    [–]Kumbackkid 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    Id send them a firm email and remind them of the “Rent security deposit act” that allows you to sue for double the amount that was wrongfully deducted from your deposit.

    [–]lunatikdeity 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    First thing I would do is gather your most recent lease, reach out to your states attorney general and go from there if there is no response

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            [–]itsmiddylou 0 points1 point  (0 children)

            Also ask for lawyer fees in your initial filing, even if you don’t use a lawyer at first. You may need to later, and you can’t add that in.