Hoboken residents are being asked to vote this November on several public questions that may have a great impact on their lives. But some believe a question that will remove rent control for certain apartments in town is written in a confusing way on the ballot.
The proposed change will allow property owners to remove any building in town from rent control once a current tenant moves out. In addition, for buildings with four or fewer units, those units will never have to fall under rent control again. For other buildings, the units will go back under rent control once a new tenant is paying the new rent.
Right now, many buildings in Hoboken built before 1987 fall under the city’s 1973 Rent Control ordinance, which limits increases to a few percent per year, with some exceptions.
However, the beginning wording on the question set to go to the ballot seems to indicate that a “yes” vote keeps rent control as it is, when in fact, it would change it.
The decontrolling of these units has been pursued by a group of property owners in town, the Mile Square Taxpayers’ Association. The decontrolling is opposed by a Hoboken activist group, the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA), who believes the change will phase out rent control and result in longtime tenants being pushed to leave.
When asked last week, Mayor Dawn Zimmer declined to take a side. But she has said that the language on the ballot should be clarified.
After various court hearings last week, it was determined that the language will stay as it is, but will be accompanied by an “interpretive statement” on which the city, the activists, and the property owners have agreed.
A little history
The public question on the Nov. 6 ballot has been making a lot of noise in Hoboken. The question was first deemed misleading and unclear by many local tenant advocates, namely the HFHA. But an attempted re-wording of the question was twice defeated during a Sept. 14 hearing in Hudson County Superior Court, 595 Newark Ave. and in a follow up attempt in the same court on Sept. 17.
Ultimately, all three sides were finally able to put their heads together after dismissal and agree on the interpretive statement, a compromise that took only 20 minutes.
The hearing no one heard about
Cheryl Fallick, who sits on the city’s Rent Leveling Board and is a member of the HFHA, says that tenant activists “beat their drum loud enough” to cause the city to intervene.
A complaint was filed on behalf of the Hoboken city clerk on Sept. 10 that proposed an all new ballot question and that the printing of ballots be stopped.
Fallick, and her attorney Flavio Komuves, requested multiple times to be notified of the hearing date.
However, when the matter was heard in Superior Court in Jersey City on Sept. 14, Fallick was not notified. She wasn’t the only one.
Fallick’s attorney was finally contacted by the plaintiff’s attorney Mark Peck saying the matter was dismissed after the hearing was over, she said. Peck did not return a call to the Reporter.
Mayor Zimmer said Friday, “It is very unfortunate that there was a miscommunication and that [HFHA] couldn’t be there.”
Even the judge is confused
MSTA released a press statement on Sept. 14 that said the city of Hoboken’s attempt to change the ballot wording was rejected by Superior Court Judge Hector Velazquez. But Fallick said the HFHA was told the hearing was dismissed, not lost.
Then it got even more confusing.
Both the MSTA and the HFHA were told that City Clerk Jim Farina (who originally filed the complaint) answered “no” when asked by a judge if he thought the ballot question should be changed.
Ultimately, Farina’s denial on the stand is why the judge dismissed the city’s attempt to substitute language, according to email correspondence from Peck to Komuves.
Farina said last week, “At that point, the judge was confused.”
“I thought I had the authority to word the question,” Farina further explained. “The people that filed disagreed, and the judge asked how it was done in the past. It then made sense to have the committee that filed the petition and those who objected sit down and agree upon the wording.”
Farina does not feel he reneged on his initial request to reword the question.
“I don’t care ‘yes, no, or maybe,” Farina said. “We wanted to get it right.”
An interpretive statement to accompany the ballot question was finally created by the parties involved, at the direction of the judge.
“This was not the best result, but it was a good result,” Zimmer said Friday. “Ultimately all parties agreed on the interpretive statement.”
Zimmer said Friday that “she was not taking sides but did want to make certain that both sides were playing fair.”
The statement is four paragraphs long and reads, in part, “If you vote ‘YES’ the above changes to the City of Hoboken’s Rent Control Ordinance shall take place and would affect all rent controlled property when the current tenant voluntarily vacates or is evicted from a rent controlled apartment unit or condominium unit. If you vote ‘NO’ the above changes to the City of Hoboken’s Rent Control Ordinance will NOT take place.”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.