Rent Leveling Ordinance Tweaked in Barnegat

Jul 11, 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 new ordinance recently introduced would keep the board but tweak some of the procedures.

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 – Brighton at Barnegat and Pinewood Estates – whose more than 500 units combined make up nearly all of the rental properties in the township. It also has one homeowner from the community at large, as well as three alternate members.

Committeeman Albert Bille noted that 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 issues in the hands of the township administrator. But then the next year, at the urging of numerous tenants, the committee brought the rent leveling board back.

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 know if the  board can move forward. I guess none of the attorneys felt the job was profitable.”

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.

Michelle Woodruff, president of the Manufactured Home Owners Association of Brighton at Barnegat, said that move is unfair to the tenants.

“The landlords have deep pockets; we don’t,” she said.

The ordinance says if mediation does not result in an agreement, the matter would be heard in Ocean County Superior Court.

“I think the new ordinance still keeps some local mechanism in place instead of having the entire matter heard in Toms River, which would happen if we abolished the rent board,” said Deputy Mayor Alfonso Cirulli.

Woodruff said she and many other tenants were disappointed that the committee was attempting to abolish the panel, saying 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,” she said.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for the committee’s next meeting, on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 7 p.m.

— Eric Englund

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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