"We had one two-family house that had 25 people living in it," said Mayor Nicholas Sacco last week. "I think this gives us a little more teeth in the law. If we didn't do something to cut it down now, it might have turned into a huge problem."
The new ordinance also redefines what is deemed to be an illegal dwelling unit.
According to Township Attorney Herb Klitzner, the new law will force landlords to think twice before renting out an illegal apartment or cubicle.
"We had to deal with all the different issues," Klitzner said. "It's been a problem in Hudson County for quite some time, and we noticed that it was growing. So we wanted to take whatever steps necessary to eradicate the problem."
A year ago, the township changed the zoning ordinance by increasing the penalties for property owners who add either a basement or attic apartments in violation of the zoning code.
But that alteration did not include cubicles, which do not fall under the category of zoning violations. Now, under the new ordinance, cubicles are considered illegal if they do not meet standard requirements for light, ventilation, ceiling height, and other health and safety codes.
Fines If a landlord is found to have an illegal apartment or residence, they could be fined as much as $500 a day and/or 30 days in jail. The rented rooms must have a certificate of occupancy, meet state housing requirements, and could not have been constructed without proper building, plumbing, and electrical permits.
"We had the zoning ordinance in place, but the only way to enforce it was by bringing the landlord to court and getting an injunction to inspect the premises," Klitzner said. "Some of our housing inspectors brought to our attention that there were many of these apartments that had the cubicles in place."
According to the new ordinance, an illegal dwelling unit is defined as: · A unit where no Certificate of Occupancy has been issued · A unit that fails to meet the requirements of the State Tenant Housing Law · A unit which was created without the issuance of any necessary plumbing, electrical or building permits. · A unit which fails to meet the requirements of any applicable ordinance governing minimum light, ventilation, floor area per occupant, ceiling height or other health and safety regulations. A dwelling unit is defined as one or more rooms occupied or intended for occupancy as separate living quarters for one family with access directly from the outside of the building or through a common hall and for which separate cooking, sleeping and sanitary facilities are provided by the landlords.
The ordinance can also be enforced immediately by the township's building department inspectors, North Bergen Fire Prevention inspectors, and township housing inspectors.
"We're now also covered in case someone rents a legal apartment, then sublets it to a bunch of different people who decided to live there," Klitzner said.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco applauded the move.
"In the past, the ordinance didn't indicate what would make an apartment illegal," Sacco said. "We worked out something where the housing, building and fire inspectors would be able to properly enforce the law. We had one case where two people rented out an apartment and eight others moved in."