Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 48
 
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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Landlord Suit Ends With $55,000 Settlement

Dilshanie Perera

Lawsuits involving Princeton landlord Sanford Zeitler, who allegedly withheld rent security deposits from Latino tenants, have been settled for $55,000, according to the tenants’ attorney, Roger Martindell, who is also a member of Princeton Borough Council.

“My clients are pleased to have their security deposits returned, their investment in the Zeitler buildings returned, and their attorney’s fees returned,” Mr. Martindell said in a telephone interview.

The case began in 2007 when lead plaintiff Alicia Barrita was evicted from a Franklin Township property after finding that the site was not zoned for residential or commercial use. She had invested approximately $20,000 in renovations to the building prior to eviction, according to Mr. Martindell.

Ms. Barrita claimed that Mr. Zeitler had told her she could rent the property for residential and a home-based Mexican food distribution business purposes, when no certificate of occupancy permitting its rental existed.

A 13-count complaint was filed in 2007 in a Trenton superior court, in which the tenants claimed they were charged for damages they did not cause and were not refunded their security deposits when they vacated the premises as per the New Jersey Rent Security Deposit Act. Additionally, the tenants claimed that Mr. Zeitler violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act by renting a property he was not legally entitled to lease under municipal zoning and construction codes.

Two of the other tenants involved in the suit “were already known to us as having been former Zeitler tenants whose security deposits were not returned to them and were mentioned in the Barrita complaint,” Mr. Martindell said. “The other two were tenants who were not mentioned, and not known to us at the time. They subsequently moved out of Zeitler apartments and were refused their security deposits,” he added.

The $55,000 settlement covers monies the five tenants allege were wrongfully withheld, additional damages suffered from the investment in one of Mr. Zeitler’s properties, and legal fees and other expenses, Mr. Martindell noted in a press release. “It is important that Latino members of our community know that they can seek redress in the courts.”

Mr. Zeitler’s attorney, George Dougherty, said in a telephone interview that “the settlement was made because Mr. Zeitler could not afford what we envisioned to be four to five years of relentless litigation. It was strictly a matter of business.”

“The settlement had nothing to do with the claims, which I thought were way overboard,” Mr. Dougherty remarked, adding that “the settlement does not represent an admission of guilt by the landlord, nor should it represent a victory or a defeat.”

Mr. Dougherty also noted that Mr. Zeitler was willing to give up a counterclaim that money was due to him, in order to settle the claim made against him.

“Mr. Zeitler is content with having this matter come to a halt. It was a tremendous drain on his ability to conduct business and on his personal life,” Mr. Dougherty said, observing that “the settlement was done with good faith on both sides, in trying to reach a representative amount to compensate for the lawyers’ time and compensate the claims that were made.”

“We are pleased that this matter has been settled amicably,” Mr. Martindell noted in the release. “Mr. Zeitler provides substantial affordable housing opportunities in Princeton, and we want to see him continue to do so in an honest manner,” he said.

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