Montclair’s first rent control board is formed; landlords have till July 8 to register
JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS/STAFF
The Montclair Township Council has appointed its first members to the rent control board.
On June 21, the council approved the appointments of six of seven members to the board. They are Evelyn Leonard, Frank Terranella and Linda Dell’Orto representing tenants, Alex Morgan and William Scott representing landlords, and Pamela Wilezynski representing homeowners. One more landlord representative is needed, according to Montclair’s rent control ordinance.
After years of tenants fighting for rent stabilization, rent control went into effect in the township on May 9. The regulations allow landlords to increase tenants’ rent one time up to 6% if they didn’t raise rents while the temporary rent freeze was in effect, and if the tenant is under the age of 65. After that, annual rent increases are limited to 4%, and to 2.5% for seniors.
Upon vacancy of an apartment, landlords can raise rents with no percentage limits, but no more often than once every five years.
Since May, the township’s assistant manager, Brian Scantlebury, has served as interim rent control officer. While the rent control officer ensures the law is being followed and that landlords register their units with the township, the rent control board issues rent control rules, provides information to tenants and landlords on compliance and holds hearings on hardship exceptions and appeals of the rent control officer’s decisions.
The board is expected to meet three times a year, but Scott said that at least in the beginning, it probably would convene more frequently.
About 40% of Montclair households are rentals, attorney and tenants advocate Joan Pransky said during a forum on rent control held by the Montclair NAACP on June 27.
Rent stabilization applies to two- and three-unit buildings that are not owner-occupied and to most buildings that contain four or more units.
The ordinance does not limit increases for tenants living in newer buildings. Since 2008 New Jersey has prohibited rent control on new buildings for 30 years after the date construction is completed or until after an initial mortgage is amortized, whichever comes first.
In Montclair, that pertains to 820 units and includes Montclair Residences, Valley & Bloom, Montclarion II, The Vestry, The Westerly, 2 South Willow and The Siena.
Rent control limits also do not apply to the approximately 750 affordable units in Montclair, which fall under state rules, Scott said.
But tenant advocates said that 60% of Montclair renters would be covered under the new rent stabilization.
Landlords can raise rents only when leases expire. Once the lease expires, or if the tenant pays month to month, the landlord can raise the rent in accordance with the ordinance, “provided the landlord abides by all notice and registration requirements,” according to Montclair’s website.
Landlords have until July 8 for registering all dwelling units subject to rent control, according to the ordinance. Landlords who are not registered by that date will receive notification from the township and have 45 days to cure the registration of their units, Pransky said.
For tenants who have lived in a unit since before May 1, 2020 to present, the landlord, upon registration, will set a base rent of the monthly amount collected as of May 1, 2020, regardless of whether the rent was increased during the rent freeze.
Tenants who do not have leases and are month to month, or whose leases have expired, must receive 30-day notices of any rent increases, Pransky said. The 30-day notice will be served through a “notice to quit,” which should not be confused with an eviction notice. It is simply a notice of terminating the lease, she said.
Pransky said tenants cannot be evicted unless they meet one of the grounds for eviction set by state statute, including failure to pay rent, property damage, destroying the peace and quiet of the other tenants or violating the lease agreement.
Along with the 30-day notice, landlords should include the calculation of the base rent and the new increase, certification that the unit meets the building code and a statement of tenant rights.
Pransky suggested that tenants who receive a new lease check the base rent set in it against the unit’s registration with the rent control officer. Increase limitations will also apply to parking rentals provided in conjunction with apartment rentals, she said.
For tenants who received rent increases during the rent freeze, Landlord-Tenant Committee Chairperson Deirde Malloy suggested filing a complaint with the rent control officer.
“If a tenant files a complaint, the rent should get rolled back to whatever the base rent was in May of 2020, but that would require them to contact the rent control officer for that determination,” she said.
A tenant complaint form has not yet been uploaded to the township website, but tenants can email the rent control office at RentControl@montclairnjusa.org or call 973-509-4956. The township will also hold special appointment hours to meet with the rent control officer, on specified days from 5 to 7 p.m. The next two are planned for Thursday, June 29, and Tuesday, July 5. Residents must make an appointment by calling 973-509-4956 or emailing email@example.com.
The rent control board will also hear landlords' applications to raise rents above the limits due to hardships — when their expenses for a building exceed 65% of the gross income, when they conduct major capital improvements or when they add major additional services. Rent increases due to hardship must be decided by the board; landlords cannot claim hardships on their own, Pransky said.
Landlord-Tenant Committee appointments were made on June 21 as well, with Malloy being reappointed and Catherine Graham-Ross, Taylor Lee, Judith Mills, Aminah Toler, Kimberly Latortue and Leah Samji appointed to represent tenants and Kyra Peralte appointed to represent landlords. The committee will help tenants and landlords with mediation on issues other than rent disputes, such as repairs not getting done and harassment.