Last week, North Bergen attorney Eric Bal, representing the residents of a 70-unit complex located on Liberty Ave and 41st Street, appeared in state Superior Court in Jersey City, pleading with Superior Court Judge Maurice Gallipoli to appoint the township as the receiver of rents so it could purchase heat pumps and other equipment to restore heat to the residences.
However, an agreement was apparently reached between the landlord, Herman Vorhand of Lakewood, the landlord's attorney, Steven Cochrane, and Bal that will open a $30,000 escrow account from which funds can be withdrawn to make the necessary repairs.
Either way, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was livid last week when he was informed that the long-suffering residents of the complex were still without heat.
"It has been an extraordinarily long and difficult battle with the owner of the complex," Sacco said. "Apparently, he wasn't up-front with the residents last year when he promised that the work would be done. I was absolutely shocked to find out that the work was not done. He was fined severely last year. I think the courts agree with me that he must be fined again. The residents don't deserve this pain and suffering. I have no idea why it took so long, but there is no excuse for it."
As part of the settlement, mechanical engineer William Murphy, who works for the township's main engineering consultant, Boswell Engineering of Hackensack, has been appointed to step in and examine the facility to determine what has to be done immediately to give the residents heat.
According to Bal, Murphy will determine how much money will be spent and what contractor will be hired to do the work.
It has already been determined that the facility needs eight new heating pumps, a boiler isolation valve, and a safety valve that will monitor the gas produced by the existing boilers.
According to the agreement, Vorhand can only challenge Murphy's determinations if his attorney finds the contractual demands to be "unreasonable."
If this plan holds, the work can be completed within a week to 10 days. However, there are electrical problems that also have to be addressed.
The contractor Murphy contacted determined that the new pumps can be delivered to the site by Monday and the work could be completed as soon as possible.
Sacco said that the landlord has to be sufficiently fined for not completing the work he agreed to have completed last year, notwithstanding the latest allegations.
"He has been in court over the amount of fines, but he should be levied with more fines," Sacco said. "I don't know what the landlord's motivations were, but we definitely intend to make sure that our residents receive the services that they deserve. We're determined to push this through to the highest level to make sure that the work gets done."
Louis Reyes, a long-time resident, applauded the mayor's efforts. "He didn't have to step forward to help us," Reyes said. "He has a lot of other things to worry about, but he took the time to make sure something was done. Our landlord has done nothing to solve our complaints and problems. It's good to know that someone cares. It's a huge relief."
Vorhand did not return phone calls. Residents said that they had not seen him in months. He did not appear in front of Gallipoli last week, but can be subpoenaed to appear if he doesn't complete the work or pay the fines.
Vorhand stated in a deposition that he believed he was supplying enough heat to the residents and had in fact completed the work of two new boilers as part of the agreement reached last year.
But residents disagree. "If he did the work, I didn't see it," Reyes said. "And I certainly don't feel it."