HOBOKEN – The City Clerk’s office once again rejected petitions for referendum from tenant advocates which would have suspended three recent changes to the city’s rent control law and then placed them on the ballot for the public to vote on.
Now, the tenants hope to amend their petition within a 10-day 'cure' period.
The City Council had unanimously approved three changes to the rent control ordinance on March 2 after almost two years of council subcommittee meetings.
One change limits the back rent tenants can collect if a landlord is found guilty of overcharging them. Previously, tenants could be awarded money for the duration of the violation, times three. The new changes limit payments to a maximum of two years. A second change eases document requirements for landlords who wish to apply for a rent increase by way of vacancy decontrol (a 25 percent increase once every three years if a tenant vacates willingly). A third change requires landlords to inform tenants of their rights, and to show proof the information was supplied.
In order for an ordinance to be placed on the ballot for referendum, petitioners must submit signatures of registered voters totaling 15 percent of the total votes cast in the municipality at the last general assembly election within 20 days of when the law is signed by the mayor. In the Nov. 3, 2009 election, 14,593 voters cast their ballots, meaning the petitioners needed 2,189 signatures, according to a memo from the clerk’s office to the petitioners.
A few months ago, the issue became complicated when, according to the petitioners, the county clerk told the group they needed to collect a number less than what the city clerk advised. When the petitioners followed the advice of the county clerk, they were rejected by the city. The issue then went to court.
A Hudson County Superior Court judge ordered the Hoboken City Clerk’s office to look over the petition once again, because the office did not go through a certification process of the petitions.
In a July 7 memo from the clerk’s office to the petitioners, City Clerk James Farina wrote that of the 2,314 signatures submitted from the original gathering and an amendment period, only 1,573 were valid signatures of registered Hoboken voters. The petitioners need to submit 2,189.
“Accordingly, my office cannot certify these submissions as a valid petition for referendum and Ordinance Z-88 is not suspended by the petitions submitted and there is no requirement for Ordinance Z-88 to go to referendum,” Farina wrote to the petitioners.
Now, the tenant advocates will try to utilize a 10-day correction period once again to collect more than 600 signatures. In a release, the petitioners note than in the recent court ruling “the judge ordered the clerk to certify all 2,314 signatures submitted and, if insufficient, to initiate a 10-day amendment period in order to rectify the signatures insufficiency.”
A request for comment from the city attorney’s office was not returned by press time.
However, those on the side of the property owners -- who want the changes to remain -- say that the petitioners should not receive another 10-day period to acquire more signatures because they already used a 10-day period before the case went to court.
For more on this story, keep watching HudsonReporter.com -- Ray Smith