Judge denies town’s request to dissolve rent control stay, referendum petition launched
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A motion by the township to dissolve a temporary stay on the newly approved rent-control ordinance has been denied. And a group has launched a petition to have rent control placed on the November ballot.
On May 12, Judge Jeffrey Beacham denied a motion filed by the Township of Montclair seeking to vacate an injunction against the implementation of its rent-control ordinance. The court had granted a temporary stay on April 17 at the request of a committee of petitioners who want to challenge the ordinance through the referendum process, which puts the question to voters to decide.
The rent-control ordinance was passed in a teleconferenced council meeting on April 7, culminating a year-long lobbying effort by the Tenants Organization of Montclair. Members of the group had spoken out at council meetings against new landlords taking over their buildings and, the group says, raising rents, in some cases by as much as 35 percent.
The petitioners, who include Steven Plofker, David Genova, Suzanne Miller, Paul Weinstein, and Brandon McEwen, are all members of the Montclair Property Owners Association and filed a five-count complaint in Superior Court on Thursday, April 16, to request the injunction.
The property owners asked that an injunction be put into effect until the state of emergency passes, plus 20 days, in order to give property owners a chance to petition for a referendum on the issue.
Prominent among several key points referenced in the judge’s ruling was the notion that the pandemic compromises the ability of citizens to exercise their right of referendum, said Charles Gormally, attorney for the Montclair Property Owners Association as well as for the committee of petitioners.
“The committee of petitioners would suffer irreparable harm in turning back bad government if it were forced to pursue a referendum now,” Gormally said. “The people of Montclair have a powerful check on excessive governmental enactments in the substantive right of referendum, and the court confirmed the vitality of that right by upholding the injunction against the township.
“Rent control should not be treated as currency for politicians seeking office, and it is likely that the voters of the township will reject rent control at the polls again as it has on two previous occasions.”
This week, town officials passed a rent freeze ordinance on an emergency basis that will remain in effect during the pandemic.
The Committee of Petitioners has launched a digital petition to place Rent Control on the November ballot.
Registered voters in Montclair can visit www.montclairpropoa.com where they can read about the rent control ordinance, and electronically sign a petition to have the issue placed on the November ballot. Residents of Montclair can register to vote online at http://www.essexclerk.com/Services/5 and will then be qualified to sign the petition.
Any petition signed previously cannot be used and will not be accepted by the town.