A highly contentious and long awaited ordinance amending the city's law was passed unanimously on first reading on Wednesday night, but not without public opposition from renters in town. The council will have to vote on it again, and the public will be able to sign up to speak on the issue, at the next council meeting before it can become law.
More than 20 people were signed up to speak on the issue, which was lasted until almost 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. Tenants expressed worries that the new ordinance may mean less protection and less rights when it comes to the issue of overpaying rent.
The biggest problem, activists said, is that the new ordinance puts a lot of power in the rent leveling board, enabling them to “circumvent the law.”
One of the reasons why the city council wants to pass the ordinance, is because it will reduce the amount of law suits against the city.
Under the new ordinance—which hasn’t been updated since 1985 and was originally drafted in 1973—tenants will have a two-year window to claim any over-charge or excess rent, and they can only collect two years. Currently there is no statute of limitations.
Attorneys who spoke on behalf of the landlords on Wednesday applauded the council for passing the ordinance, expressing relief that the ordinance has passed after being in the works for more than two years. Still, though, they weren’t all happy either.
The base year on which legal rent will be calculated will be 1985 under the new ordinance. Ron Simoncini, who represents landlords on behalf of the Mile Square Taxpayers Association, said he would like to see that base year be 2006. Simoncini said that before then the courts didn’t have reliable records.
Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla, who sits on the rent control subcommittee, has said that the new law will save the city “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Before passing the ordinance, the City Council voted unanimously to declare a “Doctrine of Necessity” regarding the new rent control ordinance. The doctrine means that council members with a conflict of interest (in this case, because they are landlords in the city of Hoboken) are still allowed to vote on the issue.
Several members of the public spoke up about the issue, defending tenants’ rights. Dan Tumpson, a known rent control activist, said that a “tenant should get back all of his overpay.”
A proposed change in favor of tenants, is that landlords are required to provide a disclosure statement to a new tenant when a lease is signed, making them aware of the rent control law and their rights.
But in the case of illegal rent, it’ll be the tenants who have lived in Hoboken the longest who will be affected most by the new law.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” Tumpson said. “It takes away tenant protection.”