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Falsely Accused of "Damages"

Posted by C. Gjon on October 16, 1999 at 20:19:14:

Hi to anyone who can help, please:

We live in NJ, in a zoned two family private house. We had a lease. When we moved in, the previous tenants moved out the same day, so the landlords didn't inspect the apt from the other tenants, thereby notifying us of certain repairs that had to be fixed-nor did they bother to clean it. Initially we wanted to move in on the 1st, they said we had to move in on the 15th. on the 15th.
We had electrical problems; since we didn't see a fuse box, we asked the landlords for it's location. They said "we didn't have one." Meanwhile the intermittent blackouts continued. We sent the landlords a certified letter to that effect; they never bothered to pick it up. Landlords made no attempt to get an electrician to fix the problem-blaming us for "overloading" - with one computer. Finally they decided to call the electric company, who came and found the fuses - paneled and painted
over, with old exposed wires hanging out within the paneling. Since we considered that a serious fire hazard, putting our lives at risk, and since they still did not get an electrician to enclosed the fuses in a timely manner - meaning immediately - we called the city inspector, who found countless violations, including an illegal tenant living in the attic.

Previous to the city inspector, before our year lease was up, they told us they would renew the lease for 6 months and raise the rent(!). Since we didn't find an apt. to our liking, we stayed, and prayed we'd find something before our 6-month lease expired. The inspector came 1 month before we moved out. On the day she came, that SAME night landlords gave us a letter of lease termination. No problem, as by that time we found an apt. and intended to give them our termination letter, which we did.

Subsequently, we moved out. On the day our lease expired, we did a walk-through. We feel they won't give us our security in full as a result of us getting the inspector on them. They claimed we:

Put nails in the walls. It was stipulated in the "addendum" to the lease that no nails were allowed - which we complied. We sent the landlords a certified letter stating various needed repairs, including the number of nails we found.

Cracked 3 windows. Those cracks were OUTSIDE. We told them we don't have kids who play in the driveway and throw balls. When we inspected the apt. unfortunately we didn't check the windows, but for all we know those cracks might have been there from many tenants ago, who might have complained, but landlords never bothered to fix. Now they're trying to sic us. Landlords said they'd "charge us $200 per window." We said how did they arrive at that figure, and since we weren't responsible, we won't pay. We requested that
they write up what they're charging us for, and "we'll take it from there."

Tight Faucet. When we moved in - I could barely turn the faucet. We complained to the landlords, who made no effort to repair it. My husband replaced the fixtures with new ones, then replaced them with landlords when we moved. Landlords claim "the fixtures are dented." Their fixtures were old. Since we were moving our stuff piece by piece, and they probably showed the apt. to a prospective tenant, I guess they thought we'd leave them(!!)
Also, we found out we were paying for their stairway/entranceway lights - which is not our responsibility. They were connected to our meter. Since we paid for our own gas and electric, they wouldn't allow us access to our own meter, which was in their basement, under lock and key. They'd put out the meter reading card so that we couldn't have access. The gas company, as well as the city inspector, both told us we have a right to access our own meter, and since the meter's locked - they're hiding something.

To make this very long story short - keep in mind we feel they have a vendetta against us, as we called the inspector on them, and they may not give us our security back in full. They're nit-picking re "damages." If that's the case - we'll take them to court, as we feel we're being unjustly accused of things we didn't do. We have copies of every complaint letter sent to them as well as pictures of those inclosed paneled fuses, and a copy of the inspector's violations findings of our apt.
We never gave them any problems, paid the rent on time, and left the apt. cleaner than when we moved in.
Your suggestions welcomed. Has anyone out there ever taken their landlord to court re security amount? What would be expected of us? How do we go about finding a lawyer??
PS - when we first moved in, they wouldn't accept checks - cash or money orders only. When we attempted to give them a POSTAL money order, landlords said "that doesn't clear fast enough"(??!!). They also gave us a hard time about giving us a receipt, since we paid in cash. Included in our certified letter to them was: "No Receipt? No Rent." They quickly gave us receipts.

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