Barnegat’s On and Off Rent Leveling Board May Be Off Again

Feb 14, 2018

An ordinance that would have dissolved the rent leveling board was pulled off the table by the Barnegat Township Committee after objections were raised during the public portion of the Feb. 6 meeting.

The chief function of the board is to enforce the rent leveling ordinance. In a quasi-judicial setting, the group often hears landlords’ requests for raising rents or handling disputes between tenant and landlord. It can also provide information to landlords and tenants on complying with the ordinance.

The five-member group consists of one landlord and one tenant representative from the two mobile home communities – Brighton at Barnegat and Pinewood Estates – who make up nearly all of the rental properties in the township. The board also has one homeowner from the community at large, as well as three alternate members.

In recent years, the board had difficulty holding regular monthly meetings because it could not get a quorum. That served as the impetus for getting rid of the board in 2015 and putting it in the hands of the township administrator. But then the next year, at the urging of numerous various tenants, the committee brought the rent leveling board back.

Committeeman Albert Bille said one of the problems facing the board now is that there is no attorney. 

“We offered it, and no one applied for the job,” he said. “None wished to be involved, so I don’t think the board can move forward. I guess none of the attorneys felt the job was profitable.”

Michelle Woodruff, president of the Manufactured Home Owners Association of Brighton at Barnegat, said tenants need a rent leveling board.

“Hometown America (Brighton owner) and Pinewood Estates do not pay taxes,” she said. “The taxes are divvied up among the homeowners. There are approximately 800 residents covering the two communities,  and they represent votes in the township.”

She said that without rent leveling, landlords would become “predatory.”

“There are many low-income people barely making it, and if you remove the voice we have, you are taking the cap off landlords,” said Woodruff. “They could raise the rent without guidelines ... curtailing their abilities. They’ll have everything on their plate at the expense of the citizens you represent.”

Dianne Grockenberger, a Pinewood Estates tenant, criticized the committee for not informing tenants of the ordinance.

“All you have done is take away from us,” said Grockenberger. “You took away our firehouse without telling us, and if we had not seen the (meeting) agenda online, we would have had no idea. Before you decide, you’d better consent to have a meeting with us.” 

Ray Leszczak, a Pinewood Estates homeowner and board member, said the board could still function without an attorney.

“There are people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who can’t afford more rent increases,” he said. “Rents can be raised to a point where they won’t be able to keep their homes, and many of them are on the border of that right now.”

Deputy Mayor Alfonso Cirulli said while he was sympathetic to the tenants, the committee “has very little power.”

“We don’t have much jurisdiction over these private properties,” he said. “The most we can really give you is moral support.”

Committeeman John Novak said he was amenable to having a meeting with the tenants since this issue “affects a segment of our population.” The committee then tabled the ordinance, pending the outcome of further discussions.

— Eric Englund 

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