All the telltale signs of an illegal rooming house on Hudson Street were there, visible from outside for everyone to see.
“I could never get any parking and I couldn’t understand why,” said a resident who didn’t want to give her name. “There was nothing but cars. But they were always different. You wouldn’t see the same cars all the time. I knew something had to be up.”
She never called Town Hall to complain. But some of her neighbors must have, because last month the Secaucus Buildings Department investigated the home on Hudson Street and alleged that the property owner was running an illegal boarding house and was renting out rooms to about five tenants.
This wasn’t the first such alleged rooming house discovered in Secaucus in recent years, according to Secaucus Buildings Inspector Vincent Prieto.
“We have uncovered a few rooming houses in town, and that was [allegedly] the case with the residence on Hudson Street.” – Vincent Prieto
After being tipped off by neighbors, Prieto said he will contact the property owner to schedule an inspection. If during the inspection he believes the home is being used as a rooming house, he alerts the state Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Rooming and Boarding Houses, which will do its own inspection.
“We look for some of the obvious signs, individual door locks on bedrooms,” Prieto said. “But sometimes it’s not always easy to gauge whether something is a rooming house. People may say, ‘Well, I’m sharing the house with friends or roommates.’ Or people may say, ‘We have locks on doors to keep children out of areas where they don’t need to be.’ So, that’s why the DCA is brought in, to verify whatever I find, because they have a lot of expertise in this area.”
Within the last three years, at least two illegal boarding houses have bee verified in Secaucus, including the one on Hudson Street, and several other properties have been investigated.
Dangerous, but appeal to the cash-strapped
Rooming and boarding houses are illegal in Secaucus, Prieto said, but appear to be on the rise nevertheless.
Call it a sign of the times.
Boarding houses generally offer cash-strapped renters an opportunity to lease a room for less than the going rate for area apartments, while offering property owners – who may be struggling with mortgage payments or tax bills – a chance to collect extra income.
But boarding houses also create safety hazards and can strain municipal resources.
“A lot of times, people are just renting a room and these rooms are cut off from the open, common spaces in the property. From a firefighter perspective that creates a lot of problems,” noted Mayor Michael Gonnelli, who’s also a member of the town’s Volunteer Fire Department. “Sometimes these rooms don’t have windows, so in the event of a fire it’s more complicated and more dangerous getting in and out. Plus, the [renters] usually don’t have a full kitchen and they’re cooking on things like hot plates, which are also dangerous.”
Gonnelli also noted that such living arrangements also exacerbate parking shortages.
Maribel Solis, who works in Secaucus, said last week that she and her sister used to live in a rooming house in Secaucus when they first moved to northern New Jersey two years ago.
“All the [legal] places we found advertised wanted more than $1,000 – a lot more. We couldn’t afford that,” she said while waiting for the NJ Transit No. 2 bus. “On Craigslist we found rooms here, in Secaucus. They were cheap and we could save money.”
The sisters now live in Union City, she said.
The owner of the house on Hudson has been issued summonses for violating the Secaucus zoning laws, Prieto said, and for not having a certificate of occupancy for the property.
The owner, who Prieto said has been cooperative thus far, has been given until mid-February to clear out the five tenants who appeared to be living on the premises.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.