An attorney representing the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA) said at a public meeting on Thursday night that a judge will soon decide whether to place a referendum to abolish rent control in Hoboken – the same referendum which was on last year’s ballot and was defeated, but subsequently overturned in court – on the October Senate special election ballot or the November general election ballot.
Following that decision, a separate appellate division panel of judges will decide whether to hold the election at all, ruling on an appeal brought by the fair housing group, which says last year’s results ought to be upheld.
The meeting, held by the HFHA to bolster its ranks with election season approaching, was advertised as an information session regarding the ongoing tax revaluation in Hoboken, which is currently being conducted by Appraisal Systems, Inc. The revaluation, or “reval” is a county-mandated process that is meant to bring property assessments up to date so that people are paying taxes on the current market rate.
A reval hasn’t taken place in Hoboken since 1988, even though by now, it should have taken place years ago. Revals are politically unpopular because people with old, undervalued homes will typically have to pay more in taxes when they get a new assessment.
“Ask questions, keep asking questions, and don’t stop asking questions.” – Cheryl Fallick
Rent control developments
Despite its stated purpose, the meeting quickly turned to the topic of rent control, an issue which dominated the political scene last year.
Last year, a group of landlords and property owners called the Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA) fought to get two measures on the Hoboken ballot to eliminate rent control in certain types of apartments. Their measures were narrowly defeated at the polls, but they went to court to get the results overturned. They argued that, among other issues, spotty voting practices in the wake of Hurricane Sandy may have kept some people from voting.
Outside Thursday’s meeting, the MSTA handed out pamphlets titled “10 Errors, or Lies... You Decide.” The pamphlet included a statement that no current rent control tenants will be affected (because the potential ordinance only goes into effect when a current tenant moves out of his/her unit), and several counter-arguments to HFHA’s claims.
On Thursday, two lawyers arguing the HFHA’s case pro bono discussed the complicated legal process with those in attendance.
The election was originally overturned because of the total number of voters who weighed in on the rent control debate, 114, had voted provisionally from outside of Hoboken. Provisional ballots are ballots filled out when a voter’s eligibility is in question for some reason, that are later evaluated by the state to be deemed legitimate or not.
People claiming to be Hoboken residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy filled out these ballots and sent them in, but the displacements could not be proven. Furthermore, a judge had ruled that voting on local referendums would not be allowed unless a person voted on a ballot with that municipality, so people who were stuck outside of Hoboken couldn’t vote on the issue.
What followed was an appeal that is still ongoing. The appellate division is set to make a ruling soon, said the lawyer for the Fair Housing group, Flavio Komuves, though the ruling will be made after the printing deadline for ballots in the October special Senate election. It’s unclear whether the vote will take place in October or November.
Renee Steinhagen, the executive director of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, the group’s other attorney, said that she tends to err on the side of caution in all legal matters, and didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes yet, but Komuves seemed more convinced that the appellate division will side with the tenants.
Owners of old homes have been paying taxes for years on what the homes were assessed at in 1988, so they may see a big tax hike when the reval is finished. Those who bought expensive homes more recently, whose value may have dropped during the recession, may see some tax relief.
Because the reval process is complicated with such high stakes, HFHA said that they thought it would be a good idea to share advice with both homeowners and renters. Members spoke about their experiences with appraisers thus far, and handed out literature with frequently asked questions about revals.
Cheryl Fallick, an HFHA representative, admitted on Thursday to the group that no one really knows what the effects of the reval will be, and that property values in Hoboken may end up staying relatively the same, but that it was best to be prepared. Knowing what to expect from the appraisal inspection is key, she said.
“If you think there are things about your home or apartment that would bring down its value, you have to tell them, or else they won’t notice it,” said Fallick.
She also advocated being ready to appeal the assessment. Once the first round of inspections is over in November, Appraisal Systems will sit down with any resident concerned with their assessment and allow them to appeal it or present supplemental information.
“Ask questions, keep asking questions, and don’t stop asking questions,” she said. “The guys themselves who come to do the inspection are not intimidating, but the process as a whole is a bit intimidating.”
After inspecting the exterior and interior of every property in Hoboken and analyzing the sales and market trends of the past few years, the appraisers will reassign each property a new value, though they won’t have any say in what the city chooses to do with the data. The process began in May, and will continue through November.
For a more detailed story on the reval process, see an earlier story in The Hoboken Reporter at http://bit.ly/1ab0VV7. For more info on HFHA, visit www.hobokenfairhousing.com, and for more info on MSTA, visit www.hobokenmsta.com.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org