Correction: Judge has not restrained Montclair from enforcing its rent freeze
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair is due in court March 28, ordered to a show a judge cause why he shouldn't side with the Montclair Property Owners Association in its request to invalidate the township's temporary rent freeze.
The judge did not award the landlords group a temporary restraining order preventing it from enforcing the rent freeze, as initially reported by MontclairLocal.news in this post. That report was based on a message from Ron Simoncini, executive director of the Montclair Property Owners Association, on Monday night. Simoncini told Montclair Local he'd sent a later text correcting his own error, but it was not received by Montclair Local. Montclair Local had not yet verified the information with the state's court's site, which was inaccessible to the general public at the time because of heavy usage. We regret the error.
The rent freezes are temporary measures — reauthorized by the Township Council every three months since May 2020, citing authority under New Jersey’s ongoing State of Emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. The most recent rent freeze extension is set to expire on March 31. The Township Council has expected to place a resolution extending it again to May 31 on its March 15 agenda.
Those measures are separate from the rent control ordinance the council first passed in April 2020, but that has never gone into effect, tied up in a legal battle with the same group of landlords.
The ordinance set limits on annual rent increases at 4.25%, and at 2.5% for seniors, on multifamily properties with four or more units, except in cases where rent control is prohibited by federal or state law. It would also limit rent increases after vacancies to 10%, which has been a sticking point for some landlords.
Since 2008, New Jersey law has prohibited rent control on new buildings for 30 years from the date construction is finished, or until amortization of the initial mortgage, whichever comes first.
The landlords in 2020 convinced Beacham to issue a temporary restraining order to keep the ordinance from going into effect while they conducted the state’s first-ever electronic signature petition, to force the ordinance to a referendum.
Township Clerk Angelese Bermúdez Nieves is now reviewing signatures to certify the petition, after both Beacham and an appellate court ruled she had been “arbitrary and capricious” in tossing out some electronic signatures during earlier reviews, for not appearing to match signatures on voter rolls.
Last week, landlords rejected the idea that there’s any review left for Nieves to do, saying courts have been clear that the signatures should be accepted.
If the clerk certifies the petition, a special election on rent control will be held on May 10. If voters approve the measure, the ordinance as passed in 2020 would go into effect.
Landlords and tenant advocates entered negotiations earlier in the year attempting to avoid a special election. The groups hoped to come up with terms for a new, revised rent control ordinance that could render the 2020 version moot and head off a referendum, but talks fell apart last month.