As the provisional ballots were counted on Friday for a close vote about the future of rent control in Hoboken, those on both sides of the issue speculated that the matter may wind up in court, as it did last year.
On Tuesday, residents voted on a measure proposed by a property owner’s group that would take certain apartments off rent control when a current tenant moves out.
Toward the end of last week, the county Board of Elections said the results were 5,047 “No” votes to 4,948 “Yes” votes – a 99 vote difference.
On Friday, the county began tabulating provisional ballots, which are cast when a potential voter is for some reason unable to provide proper identification, prove his or her residency, or when records show that he or she has already voted.
Ultimately, the losing side may contest the results anyway. That is what happened last year when the property owners narrowly lost the same vote.
If the measure is approved, landlords in Hoboken can raise rents as they please when a current tenant moves out. For buildings with five or more units, those units will go back under rent control using the new rent.
Tenants have argued that decontrolling rents would encourage landlords to find ways to push out current tenants, and drastically decrease the housing options for the city’s working class.
“Obviously I’m suspicious of the vote counts.” – Ron Simoncini
The city’s Rent Control Ordinance was adopted in 1973 and limits annual rent increases to a few percent per year. Landlords can apply to the city to get exemptions if they have made significant upgrades to a unit.
This was the second consecutive year that the decontrol referendum appeared on the ballot. It was defeated by 52 votes in 2012, but a group representing landlords and developers went to court and said that some voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy were not given the opportunity to vote on the measure because it did not appear on provisional ballots.
Not over yet?
On Thursday, a representative for the Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA), a group of landlords and developers, said that the group was not ready to concede defeat just yet.
“Obviously I’m suspicious of the vote counts,” said Ron Simoncini, a representative for MSTA. “I have to be suspicious about activity in the clerk’s office and whether everything was counted correctly since the numbers have changed three times already. With the vote this close, anyone in my position would be unable to accept the results.”
But Dan Tumpson, a member of the Hoboken Fair Housing Association, which has fought changes to the rent control ordinance for two years, said that it was time for MSTA to call it quits.
“I can’t predict what’s going to happen, even though I’m obviously happy that it looks like we’re going to win, but I think what’s important is that they’ve lost this election twice now, and I hope they’re getting the message that they’re not making any friends in this town,” he said.
Still, despite Tumpson’s wishes, Simoncini said that he had no problem taking this year’s election results to court the same way he did with last year’s referendum.
“It seems like we can’t help but sue in these situations,” he said. “We’re probably done at the ballot box, but we’ll continue to push this issue. The thing is, if they were to do a recount and all of a sudden we were the winners, I know they’d be suing us.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org