Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rent Control Forum Recap

Last night at Our Lady of Grace Church School, a forum on the topic of rent control was held from 7-9pm sponsored in part by the Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition (QLC) and The Parish of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph. The debate at times was spirited with Dan Tumpson and Matt Shapiro representing the pro rental control position from Hoboken Fair Housing Association and Rent Control opponents Ron Simoncini and Charles X. Gormally, Esq. of the Mile Square Tax Payers Association.

This is an important issue that could impact Hoboken property owners and tenants for years to come regardless of where you stand on the issue.

Note: The video from the forum will be available at if you want to hear of the finer points on this issue. 

Below are the summarized positions from  the two advocacy groups that were handed out at the forum for those who have still not made up their minds...

Hoboken Fair Housing Association (lIFHA)
Position: Vote NO on Hoboken Public Question #2

On the November 6,2012, Hoboken Public Question #2 (HPQ2) will appear on Hoboken's election ballot which will ask Hoboken voters to approve or reject amendments to Hoboken's Rent Control (RC) law which decontrols rents for all new tenants and which permanently eliminate all RC protections for tenants in 1-4 unit buildings and condos.

The wording of HPQ2 is identical to the wording that Mile Square Taxpayer Association (MSTA), the
developer/realtor organization that circulated the initiative petition which put the RC amendments on the ballot, put on their initiative petition:

"Shall the City of Hoboken continue annual rental increase protections for current residents of rent
controlled properties but allow property owners to negotiate rents for vacant apartments and exempt
buildings with one-to-four units and condominium units from the rent leveling ordinance by adopting the
proposed amendment to Chapter 155 of the Code of the City of Hoboken?"

HFHA's position on HPQ2 and the underlying MSTA RC amendments is twofold:

I.  If approved by the voters on November 6, The MSTA RC amendments will eliminate RC protections for all new tenants. This elimination of RC protections will destabilize the Hoboken community by encouraging landlords to evict their current tenants and by permanently eliminating a large fraction of Hoboken's affordable housing.

Here's what will happen if a majority of the voters approve the RC Amendments by voting "yes" on HPQ2: Once a current tenant vacates his or her unit either voluntarily or by court ordered eviction: (1.) Rents are decontrolled can be increased to whatever the landlord wants to charge for every new tenant. (2.) All 1-4 unit buildings and condos are permanently exempted from Rent Control.

New Jersey State law makes it easy for a landlord to obtain court ordered eviction of tenants from 1-3 unit rental buildings and condos at the end of their lease and from all rental buildings with condo conversion evictions. Thus, if HPQ2 is approved by the voters, landlords will have the means and financial incentive to evict current tenants or otherwise "convince" them to move "voluntarily" and then jack up the rent to whatever they want for new tenants. MANY HOBOKEN RENTERS WILL LOSE THEIR HOMES.

II.  In violation of NJ State Law, the MSTA public question wording that will be on the Nov 6 ballot is so misleading that it will trick many voters into voting against their intent. 

Suppose a voter who wants Hoboken to continue RC protections reads the beginning of the MSTA ballot
question: "Shall the City of Hoboken continue annual rental increase protections for current residents of rent
controlled properties ... " The voter will naturally assume that he must vote "yes". NOTHING COULD BE
FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. The actual purpose of the HPQ2 initiative is to completely DECONTROL all rents upon vacancy. Note also that HPQ2 fails to mention that the rent can be increased to whatever the landlord wants to charge for new tenants, but states only that the MST A amendments will "allow property owners to negotiate rents for vacant apartments". In actuality, there is no negotiation involved: the tenant must pay whatever rent the landlord demands ifhe wants to rent the unit.

The deceptive wording of the HPQ2 thus fundamentally undermines the democratic electoral process: voters can be tricked into voting against their intent.

HFHA is therefore doing what we can to communicate the true purpose of the MST A Rent Control amendments to Hoboken's voters so that they will not be deceived and will vote NO on Hoboken Public Question #2 in order to defend Hoboken renters by keeping Rent Control protections intact.

Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA): 
Vote YES on Hoboken Public Question #2 

Voting to approve Hoboken Public Question #2 will insure that tenants remain protected by rent control for as long as they stay in their apartments, while moving the City's toward a housing policy that promotes investment in rental property and the readjustment of the unfair tax burden on small property owners.
Hoboken's current rent leveling ordinance should be reformed to address inequities for property owners who are deprived of the value of their properties and disincentivized from improving them. The Hoboken Housing Improvement Initiative will follow the example of most municipalities in New Jersey by exempting vacated units in condominiums and structures with 1-4 apartments from the rent leveling ordinance and allowing for rents on vacant units in buildings of greater than 4 apartments to be negotiated to the mutual satisfaction of tenants and owners.

There is abundant support for modernizing Hoboken's rent leveling ordinance, given that:

a) That the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has set a standard exempting from rent control small properties and that as a result most New Jersey towns exempt buildings with 1-4 units from rent control;
b) New Jersey tenants are afforded the most stringent anti-harassment, anti-eviction and property maintenance legislation in the country, providing ample protection of their rights to continued occupancy of their apartments;
c) Most tenants entering apartments in Hoboken are coming from outside of Hoboken;
d) That contemporary rent control ordinances in similar communities have evolved to reflect the current fiscal, housing and business environments;
e) That the proven effect of rent control laws is to transfer property tax burdens from multi-family to single-family home owners but not other commercial property owners;
f) That creating and maintaining affordable housing while a worthy social objective is not furthered by rent control and the depressed rentals benefit those that don't need it;
g) That the health of the housing stock is threatened by limiting the income of properties to a point where their upkeep is not practical for the owner;
h) That current annual increases alone do not permit energy or insurance pass-throughs, resulting in an effective property taking and a multi-family property tax appeal spiral;
i) That restricting rents can lead to condominium conversion and an effective reduction in
affordable housing;
j) That the administration of rent leveling ordinances should not be unduly burdensome and expensive to the  municipality or the property owners;
k) That violators of the rent leveling ordinance should be subject to penalty of under the law.

As expected, a Superior Court judge affirmed the wording of the question as it appeared on the petitions to also appear on the ballot because it is a critical function of the amendment that there are no changes to existing protections. As we have seen from the rent leveling office's performance in Hoboken, any amount of political mischief is possible in the administration of the rent leveling ordinance. The wording of the question reflects our desire that existing tenants remain as they are until they voluntarily vacate their units. A deal is a deal.

And finally, the biggest concern voiced by tenant advocates is that "subtle" harassment will occur in order that existing tenants vacate their units so owners can achieve higher rents. It is important to note that the Hoboken Fair Housing website acknowledges that there is no change in the rights of tenants to remain in their apartment as long as they wish proposed in the amendment. Tenants are asking the voters to accept that all of the benefits of the amendment should be eschewed in favor of tenants who are worried that anti-eviction law, anti-harassment law, and habitability standards laws will fail to protect them from a landlord who can raise rents on a vacancy. There is no evidence of such occurrences in other New Jersey municipalities, despite that this precise type of decontrol is present in more than 540 municipalities in New Jersey. ◦