Local activist Cheryl Fallick said the decision does not change the existing law, but sets a precedent for local citizen groups.
Rent control, which limits increases on buildings built before 1987, has long been the subject of a tug-of-war in Hoboken between local tenant activists and landlords/taxpayers' associations.
According to a press release from the tenant side:
"Today the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA) received the Supreme Court’s ruling on two long-standing issues affecting Hoboken’s voters’ rights: 1) whether the Clerk of the City of Hoboken violated the referendum provisions of the Faulkner Act by refusing to file a petition and, if so, 2) whether the City Clerk actions also violated the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, which would require the City of Hoboken to pay the attorneys’ fees necessary for the COP to defend the Citizens’ democratic rights.The ruling is linked here , so click to read.
This case dates back to 2011 when the Hoboken City Council passed Ordinance Z-88 which weakened tenant protections including limiting the ability for tenants in rent controlled apartments to seek remedies for rent overcharges. At that time five members of the HFHA formed a COP to bring a referendum challenge to that Ordinance. Based on incorrect information provided by Hudson County, the submitted petition contained fewer signatures than the 15 percent of the number of voters voting in the last NJ General Assembly election which are required to get the referendum on the ballot. Because of this, the Clerk attempted to ‘unfile’ the petition and refused to provide the COP an explanation of the petition’s insufficiency and an additional 10 days for petitioners to collect signatures to cure the insufficiency, as is also required by State Law.
"What followed was a tangled path of motions and appeals in the New Jersey court system ...While the Appellate Division then upheld the lower court’s decision that forced the City of Hoboken to put the referendum on the ballot, they reversed the lower court ruling that the COP’s civil rights were violated. Today the Supreme Court, by a 6-0 vote, affirmed the Appellate Court’s ruling that the referendum must go on the ballot but by a 4-2 vote, reversed the appellate ruling concerning the violation of the COP’s civil rights thereby establishing that those rights were violated.
"[Attorney] Renee Steinhagen stated: 'This decision is a strong endorsement of the rights of Citizens of New Jersey to hold local government officials accountable. By permitting attorney fees, it also gives Citizens the tools to fight back when government decision-makers hijack the referendum process and unlawfully deprive private Citizens of their referendum rights.' ”