Rent Leveling Ordinance on Hold Until September

Aug 15, 2018

After an ordinance that would have dissolved the rent leveling board was pulled off the table by the Barnegat Township Committee earlier this year, a newly proposed ordinance would keep the board but tweak some of the procedures. However, the committee tabled adoption of it at its Aug. 7 meeting after questions were raised by an attorney representing Hometown America, owners of the Brighton at Barnegat mobile home community. Brighton and a neighboring mobile home development, Pinewood Estates, with more than 500 units combined, make up almost all of the rental properties in the township.

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 handles 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. It also has one nonvoting homeowner from the community at large, as well as three alternate members.

A feature of the new ordinance is that if tenants and landlords cannot reach an agreement, an outside mediator would be called in to help resolve the dispute. Both landlord and tenant would share the cost of a mediator.

That system was problematic for Lori Greenberg, the Hometown America attorney.

“That will give you a tie on every vote, so you’ll probably wind up in court all the time,” she said. “In the end, I’ll sue if I can’t get a simple CPI (consumer price index) rent increase, which we are entitled to each year.”

Greenberg suggested that the township allow for her client and the Brighton tenants to work out a lease agreement.

“That will give tenants protection and benefits, and you won’t need to have hearings,” she said. “I think this will be good for both the tenants and landlords. The township will then get out of the rent leveling business. Otherwise, there will be a lot of litigation, and the only people making money will be the attorneys.”

Michelle Woodruff, president of the Manufactured Home Owners Association of Brighton,  said a proposal for lease discussions is “double talk.”

“Their goal is to end rent control,” she said. “It would be nice to sit down with the landlords, but we don’t have a good history with them. In the past, we have asked questions about dollar figures, and they don’t give us answers. They have not been amenable to negotiation. We need protection because so many people live on fixed incomes, and they can’t afford large rent increases.”

The ordinance will be up for public hearing at the township committee’s next meeting, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 6:30 p.m.

“We can discuss this some more and see if we can come up with a fair solution,” said Mayor Frank Caputo.

— Eric Englund

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