Their class action lawsuit brought against the city was dismissed last week by Judge Mary Costello, signaling a major victory for tenants in the very heated ongoing debate over rent control in the mile-square city.
As it stands, the city's 1973 Rent Control Ordinance puts many limits on much of the housing in Hoboken built before 1987. The laws limit how much landlords can raise the rent each year, and provide some ways in which landlords can apply for an increase.
The lawsuit was brought after several landlords, led by Gina DeNardo, alleged that the rule was unconstitutionally advantageous to tenants. The lawsuit was intended to force the city to change the ordinance’s language regarding rent calculations and the amount of rent that may be charged in condominiums.
But the landlords did not prevail.
Costello disagreed and dismissed the suit “based upon qualified immunity grounds stemming from the city’s good faith reliance on court decisions that guided the scope of the ordinance,” according to a press release.
"I am very pleased with this decision that confirms that the city has acted properly with regard to the administration of our rent control laws,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “This latest court victory demonstrates once again the importance of making the necessary investment to vigorously defend the city’s interests.”
Charles Gormally, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the suit, said that they would appeal Costello’s decision.
Cathy Cardillo, an attorney for the Citizens for the Retention of Affordable Housing, a Hoboken-based tenant-advocacy group that worked to overturn this decision, called the decision a major victory.
“This is not only a victory for tenants, but for the city as a whole,” she said. “This is a big issue because lots of what’s happened with rent control since 2010, when this lawsuit was filed, has been based on that ordinance, which had not been, until now, declared constitutional.”
Cardillo's group did much research and provided testimony during the proceedings.
The other rent control matter the city is currently experiencing is the backlash from a controversial referendum included on last year’s November election ballot which would have eliminated rent control entirely. The referendum failed, but what subsequently overturned by a judge, leading some tenant advocates to allege that the election had been “stolen.”
Currently, the referendum is scheduled to appear on this November’s ballot per the judge’s orders, said Ron Simoncini, who represents the Mile Square Taxpayer’s Association, a landlord group. But last week, a motion to appeal that order by the Hoboken Fair Housing Association was granted, so the original election results could still be upheld.
Simoncini said that he thought Costello’s decision on the 2010 lawsuit, despite being in favor of tenants, will serve the landlords in the long run because it will help motivate them regarding the other issue.
“I think, if anything, this ruling will fortify support for our cause in the election,” he said. – Dean DeChiaro