Sommer v. Kridel
378 A.2d 767 (1977)

  • Kridel was getting married, and so he signed a 2 year lease with Sommer to get a nice apartment in Sommer’s building. He paid the first month’s rent in advance.
  • The engagement fell through before Kridel moved in. Without his wife’s parent’s income, he could not afford the rent. He wrote a letter to Sommer explaining the situation.
    • Kridel never moved in and never received a key.
    • Sommer did not answer the letter.
  • Even after receipt of Kridel’s letter, Sommer did not attempt to re-rent the apartment, and in fact turned away at least one applicant. The apartment remained vacant for 15 months.
  • Sommer sued Kridel, demanding $7k, which was the amount due for the full two-year lease.
    • This was later amended to just the $5k that was due between Kridel’s default and when Sommer eventually re-rented the apartment.
  • The Trial Court found for Kridel. Sommer appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the landlord had a duty to attempt to re-rent to the apartment and mitigate damages (aka a duty to cover).
    • In addition, Sommer’s lack of response to Kridel’s letter was an implicit acceptance and a termination of the lease.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Kridel appealed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to Joyce v. Bauman (113 N.J.L. 438, 147 A. 693 (E&A 1934)), which held that landlords could recover even if they made no attempt to mitigate.
    • It said the same thing in Restatement of Property 11.1(3).
    • The Court basically found that when a landlord leases a property, he gives up property interest. The property effectively becomes the possession of the tenant. Therefore, the landlord cannot re-rent the property since he doesn’t own it. And the tenant can’t abandon the property, since it still belongs to him whether he lives there or not.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court found that a landlord does have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to mitigate damages, even if the apartment was wrongfully vacated.
    • The Court overturned Joyce.
    • The Court found that the law should be governed by modern notions of equity and fairness, and not antiquated notions of property law. This was more of a contract law question, and in contract law, you have a duty to mitigate.
  • The New Jersey rule requiring mitigation is not followed in a lot of jurisdictions. It is still disputed law.