Letter to the Editor: Who To Thank For Rent Control in Montclair

The arduous campaign to enact a rent control ordinance in Montclair has finally come to a successful conclusion. I would like to publicly acknowledge the significant participants primarily responsible for achieving this goal. Most important is The Tenants Organization of Montclair (TOOM) which began to organize in 2019 around the massive wave of unconscionable rent increases in town. Other organizations in Montclair joined with TOOM in the task of working towards the enactment of a fair rent control ordinance to ensure fair rents for Montclair’s tenants . The NAACP Housing Committee, the Housing Commission of Montclair, and the Montclair Landlord-Tenant Advisory Committee became key members of the coalition organizing this effort. Many of the local clergy also lent their support. With the incredible work of local grassroots leaders Ahava Felicidad, Toni Martin, William Scott, Deidre Malloy, and the late Al Pelham, their long fought campaign was successful. Montclair resident Joan Pransky provided countless hours of legal expertise in the process. Her work was indispensable in crafting a rent ordinance that best serves the township of Montclair. I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of Mayor Sean Spiller who brought the contending parties together to negotiate a fair settlement.

Mitch Kahn
New Jersey Tenants Organization

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  1. “I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of Mayor Sean Spiller who brought the contending parties together to negotiate a fair settlement.”

    Have to really disagree with you Mitch Kahn on this one. In fact, the Mayor’s leadership on this issue was terrible. He and the rest of the last Council did nothing about resident tenants concerns years ago when tenants first came calling for help while development speculation was beginning to run rampant and rents escalating beyond market supply and demand.

    Then, once Spiller realized it was safe and tenants were even a potential voting block for the 2020 election, he scrambled to pass a flawed law one minute before election to avoid being tagged as anti-tenant. Indeed, it was a battle between he and then Councilor Baskerville, to outdo each other on who was more favorable for rent control. Instead, had he really tried to lead and Councilors at the time worked with all parties, landlords and tenants including small 2-3 family home owners upfront as was requested, much of the legal fighting and acrimony would have been avoided. It was voting politics instead that drove Spiller’s actions.

    Once elected, and the Landlords sued the Township as they said they would if the poorly drafted law was passed “as is” and was not amended — which could have been changed even after the election by Spiller and the new Council — the Mayor allowed our Clerk and Township Attorney then to act in an unlawful, undemocratic manner while reviewing the legal referendum petition process available. To deny the landlord’s petition and signatures on over-reaching technicalities — which a judge then overturned.

    In fact, the judge kicked our staff’s butt for their undemocratic behavior in his ruling. In effect, kicking the Mayor and Council’s butt for allowing it. No way to spin that one. We acted like a right wing, Republican state trying to disenfranchise people’s democratic rights with some BS hanging chad signature reviews.

    Then, only under threat and political duress of having no rent control finally, did the Mayor’s Council majority begin negotiating seriously with the landlords and then, when those negotiations got stuck with you involved — Spiller wrongly backed off and instead, let the two tenants organizations hang in the wind themselves to carry the ball. That was you and they, not he would be blamed politically if everything went south. If the original, poorly structured rent control law would really have to come up for a referendum resident vote. And possibly lose.

    Spiller and his Council majority block never should have left you and the tenants at the table yourselves talking without being in the room direct, since it was a Council drafted law to start with.

    So in reality, Sean Spiller’s role here has been marked by a lack of leadership and even, political cowardice IMO. Your letter sent all around and some other public political congratulations thanking Spiller, are really about Democratic State inside progressive politics now. Make nice set-ups today for Spiller’s next political move.

    If you notice, the NAACP put out a “thank you” statement to all the parties and there was no mention whatsoever of Mayor Sean Spiller. People tell me this was intentional. The Landlord’s group also did the same. Only thanked Councilman Peter Yacobellis and Councilman Bill Hurlock. And Sean Spiller, in reverse, publicly thanked everyone in the world involved except Peter Yacobillis.

    It’s been election politics — not issue leadership by him from the very start.

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