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Controlling Rent in Hoboken

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Tuesday is election day — and in Hoboken, N.J., there's a referendum on the ballot regarding a new rent control ordinance that has yet to go into effect.

It would allow landlords to raise rent on a rent-controlled apartment, if a tenant voluntarily left the unit before 2006.

Tenants advocates brought the referendum suspending the new ordinance. But Ron Simoncini, a member of the landlords group Mile Square Taxpayers Association, said tenants are over-reacting.

"They say that if you make changes to the rent control ordinance now, you might make more changes later, well the rent levelling office hasn't had a change made to it since 1987," he said.

Under the original ordinance, landlords could be found guilty of overcharging tenants and forced to pay the tenant back rent times three. Simoncini said a judge and the city council both found the original ordinance unconstitutional and ruled in favor of the landlords.

The referendum appears as question 2 on the ballot. A "yes" vote repeals the changes of the ordinance. A "no" vote keeps the change.

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Comments [11]

"Ron Simoncini from Hoboken"

YOU LIVE IN RIDGEWOOD!

And Gormally: you do not represent even close to "all" Hoboken landlords. You represent investors and absentee professional landlords who own 30+ buildings. Many Hoboken landlords reject Z-88 too because they have been following the law and Z-88 is a slap in their face because it provides amnesty to landlords who are charging illegal rents.

You took a group of tenants to court to get the wording on the ballot changed and confusing the vote forcing tenants to vote "YES" to something they did not want.

Yes, the City Council all voted to adopt Z-88 because your group of realtors, developers, and absentee professional landlords put a multi-million dollar gun to their heads with your BS "class action" lawsuit that demanded that if a landlord or property owner chose not to participate they had to fill out a form and get it notarized. Otherwise their non-action inferred agreement. YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE LIKE GINA MARIE!

You're getting scared, aren't you? You have both been paid loads of money and you've completely misjudged the community. Thank you to all your developer/investor/landlords who put up signs asking their tenants to vote no. By doing that you have made two tactical errors:

1) You raised awareness of the election and the question on the ballot (a low turnout would benefit you).

2) Let's face it: if your landlord tells you to vote no any tenant would know that means you should vote YES! How stupid do you think people are?

Apparently, very. You have shown utter contempt for our community.

Nov. 07 2011 12:02 AM
Speaking truth to power from Hoboken

(START READING AT MY FIRST POST, TWO POSTS BELOW)

(This is a continuation of the post directly beneath this one.)

... The Rent Control Law, enacted by the City Council members elected by the public, would be replaced by the prejudices (excuse me, sense of fairness) of the individual appointed rent board members.

Why have a law at all? Utterly ludicrous!

Is this a "minor administrative change" or a direct assault on tenants' legal rents? You decide.

6. Lastly, Z-88 specifies that more changes to rent control will follow, making it more difficult for
citizens to use the referendum petition process as a check on the actions of a city government that is
supposed to protect them.

Is this a "minor administrative change" or a direct assault on tenants' legal rents? You decide.

Normal Hoboken families should not be forced out of their rental homes by illegally high rents they
can't afford that suddenly become "legal" because of "minor" administrative changes.

BEWARE!! Z-88 – as bad as it is – is only the first step in a plan to eliminate rent control altogether.

The forces that pushed the city council to enact Z-88 are not going to stop. It is up to you to stop them!

VOTE YES ON PUBLIC QUESTION 2 TO REPEAL Z-88 AND
SAVE RENT CONTROL !!

Want to do more? -- talk to your neighbors -- reproduce and share this. Want to do even more?
Spend a few hours walking the main streets of Hoboken today with a home made sign that says:

VOTE YES ON PUBLIC QUESTION 2 TO REPEAL Z-88
AND SAVE RENT CONTROL !!

Sincerely yours,
Matt Shapiro, President
New Jersey Tenants Organization
The Voice of Tenants in New Jersey

P.S. While you're in the voting booth on Tuesday, please vote to re-elect State Senator Brian Stack, who
is endorsed by the NJTO.

Nov. 06 2011 11:45 PM
Speaking truth to power from Hoboken

(CONTINUED FROM POST BELOW)

3. Z-88 says that if you don't ask for a "legal rent calculation" within 2 years of getting a "disclosure
statement," then you can't get a refund at all, no matter how much you may have overpaid.

Does the "disclosure statement" disclose that many Hoboken tenants have paid illegally high rents for many, many years, and your rent may well be much too high? NO, it does not.

It's just another "get out of jail free" pass for landlords who violate the law. It's as if somehow you, the tenant, become the person at fault because you didn't complain fast enough. The landlord could have ripped you off for the last 15 years, and you don't even get your pitiful two year refund unless you act fast enough. You get NOTHING!

Is this a "minor administrative change" or a direct assault on tenants' legal rents? You decide.

4. The rent control law requires the landlord to file a form for a regular rent increase or for a Vacancy
Decontrol increase of 25% (when a tenant moves out, creating a "vacancy," the new tenant can be
charged a much higher rent).

Vacancy Decontrol is a bad feature of many rent laws that rewards landlords for "convincing" current tenants to move in order to get much higher rents from new tenants.

This "convincing" can take the form of outright harassment (3 am phone calls, threats, etc.) or subtle
harassment (poor maintenance, slow response to complaints). For this and other reasons, the NJTO
opposes Vacancy Decontrol in any form. But you do have it.

All a landlord has to do is file a form when
the vacancy occurs, prior to giving the Vacancy Decontrol rent increase – a very reasonable requirement. When the vacancy first occurs, the old tenant may still be close by to testify as to whether
their was any kind of "convincing" that encouraged her/him to move.

Z-88 effectively does away with that requirement retroactively. Unless you vote YES to REJECT Z-88,
all a landlord has to do to justify any prior illegal Vacancy Decontrol increases (no matter how long ago)
is to "certify" today that the vacancy did indeed exist 15 years ago and 12 years ago and 9 years ago,
even though no forms were filed, and, of course, there was no "convincing" involved with the tenants
leaving. This is called "alternative proofs." Are we really just supposed to take the landlord's word
about this? This would be funny if it weren't so deadly serious.

Is this a "minor administrative change" or a direct assault on tenants' legal rents? You decide.

5. Here's another one that sounds like it's just a joke. It couldn't possibly be for real. But it is. Z-88
would give the Rent Control Board the "equitable authority" to disregard the provisions of the rent
control law if they think it's "fair."

So under Z-88 Rent Control Board members are allowed to substitute their own personal sense of fairness for what the law actually says.

(Message continued in the post above this one)

Nov. 06 2011 11:41 PM
Speaking truth to power from Hoboken

I reproduce here a letter from Matthew Shapiro of NJTO: New Jersey Tenants Organization.

Vote YES on Public Question 2 to REJECT
Ordinance Z-88 which weakens rent control.

Dear Hoboken Tenants and Friends of Tenants,

This Tuesday, November 8th, is election day, and your vote is needed to protect rent control in Hoboken. If you want to protect rent control, then vote YES on Public Question 2. A YES vote will reject, repeal, and eliminate Ordinance Z-88, which was passed by the City Council, probably in reaction to lawsuits that they are tired of fighting.

Public Question 2 is on the ballot because of the dedicated work of the Hoboken Fair Housing
Association, a group of tenants' rights activists, affiliated with the NJTO, who collected 3,158 signatures to force a public vote on rejecting this terrible ordinance Z-88.

The wording of the "interpretive statement" on the ballot makes it seem as if Z-88 just makes some
minor administrative changes. Don't be fooled! Z-88 is extremely harmful, and you need to vote
YES to REJECT Z-88 if you want to protect tenants' rights under rent control in Hoboken.

Why is Z-88 so bad?

1. Rent control was first passed in 1973. From that time on, it was illegal to raise rents higher than the
rent law allowed. ILLEGAL. If, for example, the rent on an apartment was illegally doubled in 1975,
then the rent paid for that apartment from then until now is supposed to be reduced and proper refunds
given to whoever lived there. If Z-88 is not rejected and repealed with a YES vote on Public Question 2,
those proper refunds and rent reductions will not be allowed, even for the current tenant paying a rent
way above the legal maximum. Z-88 changes the "base year" from which legal rents are calculated from
1973 to 1985. That means any illegal rent increases between those years and their illegal effect on all
the rent increases that followed up to the current time are simply ignored. Prior and current landlords
just get away with charging illegal rents and tenants are told to just shut up and pay the illegal rent.

Is this a "minor administrative change" or a direct assault on tenants' legal rents? You decide.

2. Z-88 would not allow a tenant to receive a refund for more than 2 years of illegally high rents. What
if your rent was above the legal limit for 5 years or 10 years. Sorry, no refunds beyond the last two
years. Doesn't matter that it was illegal. Doesn't matter how much illegal rent money you paid. Two
year refund limit! (They call this a "period of repose", as if we can only be awake for the last two years
of an illegal rent.) And it may even be zero years instead of two years (see item 3).

Is this a "minor administrative change" or a direct assault on tenants' legal rents? You decide.

(Continued)

Nov. 06 2011 11:34 PM
hobosen from Hoboken

Mr. Simoncini's home and office are not in Hoboken. He has been paid for some time to be a spokesperson for large landlords and developers, many of whom are also not based in Hoboken.

He says tenants are fighting this hard to protect windfalls? Clearly, any tenants informed enough to fight would have filed for rent returns if they'd been overcharged. These tenants are fighting for this because they believe it. They are tremendously good honest people. They are long time activists and Hoboken is blessed to have them.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about some of the landlords who have been knowingly ignoring rent control laws in Hoboken.

Nov. 06 2011 09:50 PM
Charles Gormally from Roseland, NJ

Many of the comments made here and in other posts by tenants mis-state the facts of this matter. Ordinance Z-88 was adopted UNANIMOUSLY by Hoboken's elected officials. How often does all of that City Council agree on ANYTHING? The reasons that there was such resounding support for this amendment to the ordinance requires an accurate understanding of the history. In fact a Superior Court Judge declared that the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to the landlord that was involved in the case. I know, I represented the landlord at this trial.
Another reason is that all landlords in Hoboken are now challenging the way that the old ordinance was being administered in a certified class action lawsuit based on this earlier court ruling. I know because I am representing the class in that case.
The Council adopted very modest but important changes in rent control to address the problems of 25 years of mis administration. It does not eliminate rent control for any property nor does it allow the landlord to raise the rent anymore than previously allowed. Tenants in Hoboken still enjoy the strongest state law protections in the nation that allow them to stay in rent controlled apartments without regard to need. The changes made by the council were necessary and should be protected by all residents by voting NO on November 8. Don't be mislead by anonymous posts made here that are designed to scare tenants with wrong information.

Nov. 06 2011 07:52 PM
Ron Simoncini from Hoboken

all the arguments the tenant advocates leave about this article point away from the important facts: no tenant protections are removed by Z-88. rent rebates are set at the most liberal levels in Hudson County and tenants now must be informed of their right to a calculation of their legal rent. Z-88 allows landlords to present evidence in their own defense, which they previously could not. the rent leveling board now has powers to adjudicate matters without going to superior court -- but tenants still have the right to go to court if they wish.
what's the real issue? the gravy train of being able to catch landlords in a technical violation and use the local ordinance to trigger the state's treble damage standard. that is an illegitimate and insincere use of the law, and that is why the Council voted 9-0 to stop it. it is frightening that voters are being presented with the notion that tenants are threatened by a change in the rules when it is a money-grab that is motivating their interest. if only all of WNYC's readers and listeners could see these folks in action as i have for the last 2 years, they would recognize how dangerous affording them any credibility is.

Nov. 06 2011 04:15 PM
Rebecca from Hoboken

Another thing this article has wrong is the part about the rent control law being found unconstitutional. It never was found unconstitutional by the council or by a court. That is a complete fabrication. All the courts have affirmed that it is constitutional. One trial court found that the requirement of one form during one three year period was arbitrary and capricious but affirmed the constitutionality of the main bulk of the ordinance. A higher court disagreed and said that the use of this form was NOT arbitrary and capricious and said that even that part of the application of the ordinance WAS constitutional. So even that has been negated.

Nov. 06 2011 12:33 PM
Hoboken Voter from Hoboken

Aren't reporters supposed to check facts before printing an article? This article has everything completely wrong. It reads as if you let the lobbyist for the real estate industry write this for you.

The changes to the ordinance DOES NOT allow landlords to raise the rent 25% if a tenant moves out voluntarily. They have always had that right. One thing it does do is make it easier to get away with raising the rent when the tenant is forced out although the ordinance is supposed to protect tenants from just that.

There is nothing in the rent control ordinance that gives tenants the right to collect triple damages when the landlord illegally overcharges them. When a landlord drags the tenant into court in an attempt to keep most of the illegal overpayment state law permits the tenant to collect triple damages if the tenant can prove consumer fraud. This has happened in a handful of cases. These triple damages have forced the landlords to the table to get them to settle with the tenant, something some landlords are loath to do. They know that tenants are far less able to pay for lawyers and court costs and prefer to misuse the legal system to bully the tenant into submission. They also know that other tenants will be reluctant to try and get their own overpayments back if the tenant have to spend years in court paying thousands of dollars. If the landlord follows the law and pays back the illegal overpayments as the ordinance provides lawyers and courts aren't involved and the landlord is not vulnerable to the state law on consumer fraud and does not risk paying triple damages.

The changes to the ordinance made by the council (many of whom have stated that they could gain financially from the changes) gives dishonest landlords an incentive to continue to violate the law and bully tenants who pursue their rights.

Nov. 06 2011 11:46 AM
VOTE YES ON Z-88

1. IS THERE REALLY A DEBATE ABOUT RENT CONTROLS?

Rent controls have been in place in Hoboken since World War II, first, Federal, then State and local. Look around - Hoboken is a thriving and ever expanding community. The traditional arguments against rent controls do not exist, here - properties are being maintained and values have increased. Another specific "tell" is the number of owners claiming not to receive a "fair return" - or filing for "hardship" increases as provided in the Ordinance. In 16 years, there have been only 11 applications, with really no more than one in any one year. The City asserts there are approximately 8000 units subject to controls in Hoboken.

2. WHY HAS THIS ALLEGED DEBATE RAISED NOW, AFTER SO MANY YEARS?

A wealthy non-resident Developer, who owns 32 multiple-family dwellings in Hoboken, is financing an "association," with a paid publicist/manager, and costly litigation against the City, to pressure it into making changes. The question of "why" is obvious. Prior to this Developer's push - there were just 2 suits against the City involving "fair return" in the past 10 years; all of which were denied. Critically - a Developer's crony just lost in the Appellate Division - finding, even accepting all allegations of "misadministration" as true, the City acted properly in applying the existing Ordinance requirements, and these requirements served an important public interest purpose.

Not all multiple-dwelling owners are alike. One contacted the City Council Sub-Committee, declaring that the Ordinance was clear and when followed, provided him with fair rents, and those that were complaining, were owners who simply chose not to follow it. Pertinently, tenants in Hoboken do not really question the legality of their rents - there are only 1 to 5 requests in any one year.

3. WHY THESE AMENDMENTS?

Examine the changes. To start, they limit an unknowing tenant's refund of paid illegally charged rents to just two years. Who benefits from this provision? The law abiding owner, above, or the law flouting owner? In the few legal rent calculations performed, the illegality has generally been knowing. An example, with the funding Developer - he personally charged a tenant almost 3 times the previous rent and exacted a "permanent" rent surcharge, while filing a signed certification with the City, that only the "legal" rent was charged.

4. CAN THE RENT CONTROL CHAPTER BE IMPROVED?

The answer is "yes," by simplifying procedures for landlords and clarifying definitions. Members of CRAHH submitted a revision of the Ordinance to the Sub-Committee to help accomplish this objective. Tenants and other advocates are not against change. They only ask that these changes do not undermine existing protections and defeat the important public purpose of the controls.

Nov. 06 2011 11:29 AM
Hazel from New Jersey

"Under the original ordinance, landlords could be found guilty of overcharging tenants and forced to pay the tenant back rent times three."

This is NOT true! Triple damages is NJ State Law - it has nothing to do with Hoboken's rent control law but is used by Simoncini as propaganda for why Hoboken should weaken tenant protections.

And tenants are NOT over-reacting. Simoncini is a paid lobbyist for realtors, developers and professional landlords who have sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into this campaign. There is a reason they are doing this and that is because it is financially worth it to them.

Make no mistake Hoboken: this is a trial balloon. If it flies they will move to gut rent control.

Nov. 06 2011 10:39 AM

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