The North Bergen Town Council amended two ordinances related to illegal apartments and cubicles at its Dec. 9 meeting. An illegal apartment or dwelling is one that does not meet fire and building codes. Sometimes such apartments are carved out of basements or bigger apartments and used to house illegal aliens.
These apartments may lack a shower or toilet, emergency exits, or other necessities. They also lead to overcrowding in a city and in the schools without the owners paying more taxes.
Town Attorney Herbert Klitzner said the changes were merely made to the definitions stated in the ordinances. Prior to the change, there were two separate ordinances that differentiated between an illegal cubicle, where wall partitions separate bedrooms, and illegal apartments. Now the two ordinances are merged into one.
“Some were slipping through the cracks in court and that’s why we had to tidy it up.” – Nicholas Sacco
He explained that the township wanted the North Bergen housing officials, North Bergen fire officials, and the North Bergen Health Department to have a concise definition to rely on when making decisions.
The previous definition also resulted in some illegal units receiving no penalty because their situation did not fit under the current ordinance, said Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
“Some were slipping through the cracks in court, and that’s why we had to tidy it up,” said Sacco.
Under the new ordinance, an illegal dwelling is categorized as a living quarter without a certificate of occupancy; one that fails to meet the State Tenant Housing Law; a dwelling without necessary plumbing, electric, or building permits; or a place that fails to meet the minimum light, ventilation, floor/area ratio per occupant, ceiling height, or other safety and health regulation.
Under the fee schedule, which remains the same as before, the first violation is a fine of up to $750 and/or 10 days in jail. The second violation is a fine of $750 to $1,200 and/or up to 20 days in jail, while the third or following violations result in fines of $1,200 up to $2,500 and/or up to 30 days in jail.
The fines are per illegal dwelling and are up to the discretion of the municipal court judge.
At the meeting, North Bergen resident Herbert Shaw questioned whether bribery could ensue, since a warning does not have to be issued for the first incident.
“You can’t legislate honesty,” said Sacco, who explained that he hopes and believes that everyone will do their job accordingly.
A hazard to the community
Sacco said that many fires in the township have occurred in buildings that had illegal apartments. He said even an apartment in an attic is a “fire trap” since there is only one way out of that occupancy. He hopes that revamping the law helps the township rid itself of many of these illegal dwellings.
“This is a hazard, a safety hazard,” said Sacco. “It over crowds our conditions, creates parking problems, and the township loses all around because the landlords are the ones making money and the town doesn’t see any tax relief.”
Sacco hopes that more people will notify the town of illegal apartments, which they can do anonymously by calling the township’s illegal apartment hotline at (201) 392-0308.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.