One of New Jersey’s more popular towns has passed a new law designed to curb rent increases apartment dwellers face, although a group of property owners has questioned the legality of the legislation.
During Montclair’s April 7 council meeting, a new ordinance was approved by a 5-0 vote that limits the amount landlords can raise rents on an annual basis. The regulation caps annual increases at 4.25 percent and at 2.5 percent for seniors, an effort designed to keep the town affordable.
The ordinance, which was discussed and passed during a virtual meeting, applies to most apartment buildings that contain more than four residential units and exempts two-, three- and four-family residences.
There are a few other carve-outs in the law; it doesn’t apply to hotels, units for which the amount of rent is determined as a function of household income by a government program, or dwellings that are exempted by state or federal law. Landlords found in violation of the ordinance can be subject to a $2,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail.
The rent-control legislation was crafted over the last year with significant input via the Tenants Organization of Montclair. The council passed the ordinance despite the objections of a group called the Montclair Property Owners Association, who claim to represent owners of 800 apartments in the town.
The organization was looking to postpone the council’s vote and had committed to a voluntary rent freeze on their tenants for the next 90 days, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ron Simoncini, representing the owners association, told NJBiz that Montclair’s ordinance “features unconstitutional conditions and is unenforceable.”
Specifically, the Montclair Property Owners Association says they submitted a legal opinion that concluded that the town voting on and enacting the ordinance would be in violation of Executive Orders 107 and 108, which are designed to prevent such abuses during the COVID-19 crisis. The group stated a petition against rent control to fight the measure, a move the Tenants Organization of Montclair blasted in a statement.
“We want to point out that the Montclair Property Owners Association is a group that has only popped into local view in the past two weeks,” the tenants group wrote. “The group is being orchestrated by Ron Simoncini, a public relations representative for real estate companies, who acts as a hired gun for landlords whenever rent leveling efforts near success in New Jersey communities.”
It remains to be seen if a legal challenge is mounted to Montclair’s rent-control ordinance, but it is scheduled to take effect on April 28.