Letter to the Editor: Behind the Scenes Lobbying Doesn’t Amount to Honest Debate

The easiest way to put it is that there is a perfect storm bringing Montclair rent control, and the results will be devastating to property owners. The recent opinion by the TOOM officers only validates the perspective of Property Owners that this is a behind-the-scenes end-run to deprive homeowners of their voice in the dialogue.

Without a mayoral election where progressive candidates are currying 4th ward votes, there would be balance in the dialogue representing Montclair’s homeowner districts. But instead, tenant advocates are using the cover of COVID-19 to prevent the sort of public engagement that an issue like this would normally bring, well-knowing that rent control has been turned down in Montclair on Montclair 4 previous occasions.

Claims of politicians and tenants that meetings about enacting rent control “was fair to property owners” is like a fox being asked to devise a management system for the henhouse. And what of the homeowners and their property tax impacts? Were those measured by the all-knowing tenant advocates? Tenant advocates boldly even acknowledge there were no homeowners or apartment owners at the table to react to this ordinance.

Even if rent control is needed in Montclair, the ordinance that was drafted is not enforceable or in scale with Montclair as a marketplace. The prime example is that all of the surrounding towns have vacancy decontrol which assures that any tax impacts or threats to maintenance are moderated. We know without asking that tenant advocates never explored that matter deeply with council members in their development of the proposed ordinance.

The problem for Montclarions is that this actually matters greatly for homeowners in Montclair and it is mostly being done for the benefit of new residents to Montclair. Of the nearly 800 units represented in the Montclair Property Association, most property owners’ rental increases for existing tenants are below what will be allowed here. But on vacancy – when many owners gut renovate apartments and rent them at market rates – rental increases will be restricted to 10%. That will result in less valuable apartments whose assessments will be lower, which will increase the taxes for homeowners. But moreover, it will discourage the excellent maintenance we see in most Montclair apartment buildings now, and it will cost the jobs of the many local contractors who perform this work. Denying the market of the updated apartments it demands and instead provide unrenovated units that by definition will have conditions issues whose impacts will echo through Montclair’s administration is on no one’s interest.

With both a rent freeze AND a moratorium on evictions, there is no rush to get this thru during the COVID-19 crisis except there is an election May 12th. But the irony is that Montclairions have no choice except to vote for a candidate who like rent control – so what is the rush to vote this in before either of them can be elected? They can always champion this as Mayor. Maybe they realize that if they do their first political crisis is already baked in: defending a Referendum.

The truth is, this is a political and ideological moment that Montclair can ill-afford. The truth is, unconscionable rent increases can be addressed in court and the very few owners who are outliers can face the consequence there. The truth is, there is no reason to punish all homeowners and the balance of apartment owners over isolated cases.

But the sad truth is, Montclair may not have anyone on its Council who is courageous enough to stand up Tuesday and say “we don’t need to do this now. Let’s not. Let’s hold off and have dialogue about this at the appropriate time after the COVID-19 crisis is resolved?“

— Ron Simoncini

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  1. I agree 100%! Regardless of how you feel about this issue – it is clear that this ordinance has gotten input from only one side of the debate!
    Is this how a governing body is supposed to operate – Hear from one side, and then pass a rushed ordinance in the midst of a global pandemic??
    It seems extremely irresponsible for the Council to try and pass such a significant law, with town-wide consequences, in the middle of Covid-19!!!

  2. Rent control has been discussed since 2016, as I recall. Definitely 2018 (https://www.questia.com/newspaper/1P4-2007039600/montclair-rent-control-or-no-rent-control) Landlords knew it was coming. They had two years, at least, to voice their feelings. They didn’t. Sorry, not sorry. They were raising rent as much as they could every year. After incidents like what happened on North Fullerton Avenue (rent increases by 10 – 25%.) In general, rent increases over 4% are considered “unconscionable” unless reasonable work has been to upgrade the unit (not just the property.) While this isn’t -law- in NJ, putting in front of a judge is a different story. Because, let’s be real about it: The landlords who ARE jacking up the rent by 10%+ or more are trying to push out low-income tenants who more often than not happen to be non-white. Sometimes it is purely for that latter reason. My previous landlord BARELY raised our rent by 2% for the nine years I had them as my landlord. My new landlord? Over $1,000 increase in one year. My unit is still falling apart. Where is that $12,000 extra a year going?

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