In seeking to reverse changes to the city’s rent control ordinance, the Bayonne Tenants Organization came up about 70 signatures short during their drive to put the question up for a public vote.
This was the second attempt by the group to reverse a City Council move from last November that would gradually phase out rent control in the city.
The group submitted signatures in December, but these were invalidated because of a technicality. The group failed to provide identification for the purpose on the top of each page so that those signing the petition were clear on what the petition was for.
Last month, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Hector Velazquez ruled in favor of the City of Bayonne, saying that petitions filed to overturn changes to the city’s rent control ordinance were invalid. He gave those filing the petition 14 days to gather new signatures that would allow the matter to be voted on as a public referendum in special election.
The group collected 1025 signatures. They needed 845 to get the question put on the ballot. But last week, City Clerk Robert Sloan determined that only 772 were valid signatures, thus making the petition invalid again.
One last chance?
Howard Moskowitz, the attorney representing the Bayonne Tenants Organization, said the group is seeking to get the required amount in what may be one more reprieve, since state law apparently gives the group ten additional days to correct their application.
City officials are puzzled by the move by the tenant’s organization, since all residents who are currently in rent controlled apartments are protected under the new provision. The change would eliminate rent control only when the current resident moves out.
Property owners and some real estate representatives say rent control is one of the barriers that keeps property owners from upgrading their facilities. City officials agree.
Rent control is not based on any need, but on luck of the draw. There are currently just under 400 units throughout the city. There are no income requirements or other criteria for living in a rent-controlled apartment, although many of those who do live in them currently would otherwise qualify for low income housing. Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for the low-income housing.
Business Administrator Steve Gallo said he believed the changes made in November to the Rent Control ordinance were fair and provided those currently in rent controlled homes a level of comfort.
“The city has been very careful to protect the people who lived in those apartments.” – Jason O’Donnell
Councilman Ray Greaves said he felt confident that the ordinance he voted for in December was fair to both renters and the landlords.
“I felt uncomfortable with the first ordinance introduced last July,” Greaves said, referring to an earlier draft that would have allowed landlords to opt out of rent control if they completed certain city-approved upgrades to the units. Under the earlier version, some renters such as senior citizens would have been protected, but the city would decide when a unit could be deregulated.
First Ward Councilwoman Agnes Gillespie stated that the version passed in November was fair to everybody.
“I could not have voted for the ordinance that was introduced in July,” she said.
But council members uniformly said the change is needed in order to encourage landlords to upgrade an aging and deteriorating stock of apartments.
Michael Bernescu, officer manager for Weichert Realtors’ in Bayonne, said that more than 70 percent of Bayonne housing stock was built prior to World War II, and that Bayonne failed to begin rebuilding its residential infrastructure. Hoboken and Jersey City rebuilt nearly 30 years ago, so Bayonne is now three decades behind those more successful urban areas.
Betsy Parks, who is leading the coalition to roll back the changes, said rent control is the most important protection tenants have.
But city officials disagree, saying that the concept is outdated and imposes an unfair burden on landlords, who cannot get the benefit of their own investment from the properties they own.
Second Ward Councilman Joseph Hurley, who also had problems with the first proposed changes in July, said he thought the ordinance passed in November was fair.
Modern rent control laws have their roots in the Civil Rights movement and were instituted in many cities in the 1970s along with other social reform programs, such as affirmative action. New Jersey is one of four states that give communities a local option to pass rent control laws. About 100 cities in the state still have some version of rent control, although it is seen as something being phased out.
“I do not understand why people are objecting to the changes,” said Public Safety Director Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell. “The city has been very careful to protect the people who lived in those apartments.”