MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Montclair’s Town Council voted Tuesday night to extend the rent freeze, keeping the rent increase moratorium in place until March 31, 2022.
Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager abstained. The only dissenting vote came from Councilor At Large Peter Yacobellis. Yacobellis said in his comments (full statement below) that he was concerned the extension would be challenged and that “the Township didn’t have good track record on these issues in court.”
AhavaFelicidad, president of the Tenants Organization of Montclair, said it was vital to continue the rent freeze and that tenants would be subjected to “unconscionable increases” without it.
Before the vote, an attorney from Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) called in during public comment to say that the group would indeed pursue additional litigation if the council voted for what he called a “confiscatory rent freeze.”
“This rent freeze extension is clearly a retaliatory measure by the Mayor and the Council after the Appellate Court Ruling in favor of the Montclair Property Owners Association’s Constitutional Right to Referendum. It is now even more painfully clear that the taxpayers get no consideration in these polices set forth by a Council that continues to put partisan politics before equitable governance,” Montclair Property Owners Association Executive Director Ron Simoncini said in a statement Wednesday.
On November 30, the Township of Montclair lost when a New Jersey appeals court held that the Township Clerk’s decision that the Montclair Property Owners Association’s petition for a ballot question on rent control lacked sufficient signatures was unreasonable. The opinion would allow for a referendum on the question of rent control in the Township.
Montclair Township Council passed the rent control ordinance on April 7, 2020. The ordinance would limit annual rent increases in the Township to 2.5 percent for seniors and 4.25 percent for other tenants, with some exceptions.
Yacobellis sent this statement following the vote;
Tonight I voted against extending the rent freeze. No matter what I decided, I was going to upset some people. So please allow me to explain my vote:
I think we need to have rent control in Montclair and need to be doing much more to encourage the construction of affordable housing. The cost of living in Montclair is pricing out too many people and we need structural changes. I support permitting Accessory Dwelling Units in R1 zones in a careful way, considering a higher affordable set aside in development and doing more to disperse dollars from our Affordable Housing Trust Fund to people in need.
Over the last 18 months that I’ve been in office, I’ve voted to freeze rents six times covering all of my term and complimenting the previous Council action to ensure rent in most Montclair homes was frozen throughout the pandemic. And while there is some uncertainty about the Omicron variant, our economy seems to be on a very healthy trajectory, though of course not for everyone.
Inflation was a staggering 6.2% in October, meaning the cost of homes, goods and services are going up. Unemployment has dropped to 4.2% as of Nov. 1st. Schools are back full time. Vaccination rates in New Jersey are higher than the national average and companies and businesses are struggling to find workers in what economists are calling a labor shortage. At the same time, Federal aid continues to flow to most parents in the form of monthly child tax credits of $300 per child and much more assistance remains available to those in need. If you’re someone in need, please reach out to me so I can help you figure out how to get aid.
In Montclair, during the pandemic, we’ve raised property taxes and sewer bills and will likely have to raise property taxes again next year just to maintain services and balance the budget. I simply don’t feel comfortable putting all of that burden on people who own homes and property when it isn’t their fault either. There are some bad actors out there and they need to be dealt with. But the vast majority of people who own property and rent out property tend to do right by their tenants and are just trying to keep up with macro economic conditions that most of us have no control over. Continuing to freeze rents is not a substitution for an affordable housing strategy for this town. We need to do the work on that.
As a 37-year renter, someone who grew up in a rent controlled apartment and ran the New York office of rent administration, I truly understand what it means to be a tenant and the challenging circumstances you can sometimes find yourself in. But there is only so much we can and that I’m willing to do especially when we’re on shaky legal ground. In the last week I’ve spoken to three attorneys, including our recent Township Attorney who all advised me that a continuation of the rent freeze would likely result in the Township being sued and that, in their opinions, there is a high likelihood that we would lose. So while this is likely politically unpopular, I do believe it was the right decision to make for our town overall and I will live with that.
Some will attempt to use this to paint me as being anti-tenant or not compassionate. But anyone who knows my heart will know that is not true. I’m at At-Large Council Member and I take that responsibility of representing the entire town and all of the varied interests very seriously. I think my most important responsibility is to bring and guide us towards balance both now and in terms of how we affect the economic trajectory of this town. It’s also about balancing the needs of all of my constituents.
I can appreciate that some of you may be disappointed in me. If that’s you and you want to share some feedback, please do. I’m always open to it. But I hope you know and respect that I did what I thought was right and that I continue to be straightforward and transparent and to listen. I always will.