Representatives on opposing sides of a referendum on Nov. 5 to alter Hoboken’s rent control laws engaged in public debate on the issue on Monday.
The Hoboken Public Question would permanently remove rent control from buildings with four units of housing or fewer when a current tenant moves out, and add a one-time decontrol for buildings with five or more units.
Currently, landlords of many apartments in Hoboken built through 1987 are limited to raising the rents to a few percentage points each year, although they can apply to the city to increase the amount if they do renovations, and they can increase the rent by 25 percent every three years if a tenant voluntarily leaves. Some landlords believe they can’t make a fair return on their investment because their rents have been controlled for so long, while tenant advocates say that rent control keeps housing affordable in Hoboken.
About 8,000 rental units will be affected by the measure.
On one side of Monday’s debate, Dan Tumpson of the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA) and Matt Shapiro of the New Jersey Tenants Organization (NJTO) argued against the measure. They said that if the law passes, landlords will have good reason to harass tenants to the point where they move out of their homes.
On the other side, Ron Simoncini of the Mile Square Taxpayer’s Association, and Charles Gormally, the association’s attorney, argued in favor of the measure. They said it will not encourage harassment because no landlord would risk jail time to increase profits. They also said the goal of the referendum is not to harm tenants but to guarantee property owners a reasonable return on their investments.
This is the second consecutive year that rent control will appear on the November ballot.
The debate was hosted by the Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition. An audio podcast of the entire evening is available on the coalition’s website, www.qlchoboken.org.
Much of the rhetoric used by HFHA on Monday focused on the potential for tenant harassment.
“Hoboken is the hottest rent market in the state right now,” said Shapiro. “Many people are going to be forced out if this passes, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves.”
Gormally and Simoncini pressed Shapiro to support his claim with evidence of harassment in Hoboken thus far. Shapiro said he could not give evidence of formal cases because harassment is exceedingly difficult to prove.
MSTA, on the other hand, has consistently portrayed itself as being on the side of small homeowners of two and three unit buildings that “need relief from threats to their family assets.”
“Most of the two and three unit building owners in this town have historically rented to their family members, and they charged them a low rent,” said Simoncini. “Now you’ve got a situation where those family members are moving out and these owners aren’t able to charge people that aren’t in their family rent at market rate.”
HFHA has alleged that MSTA is funded largely by corporate developers, and have said that the measure’s passage will damage the “fabric” of Hoboken.
Politicians take sides
The candidates running for mayor this coming Tuesday have different opinions of the question. Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Assemblyman Ruben Ramos are both against the referendum question.
Candidate Tim Occhipinti, a councilman, is in favor of the question, but says his administration would be very tough on any tenant harassment.
The polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org