Crackdown on boarding houses
City following up on citizen tips
by Art Schwartz
Reporter staff writer
Mar 23, 2014 | 2139 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
STERN WARNING – Mayor Michael Gonnelli warns of zero tolerance for illegal boarding homes.
STERN WARNING – Mayor Michael Gonnelli warns of zero tolerance for illegal boarding homes.
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“We’re not going to tolerate that kind of impact on the neighborhood,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “People’s homes are their investments. This kind of thing impacts the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

He was talking about the alleged boarding house that was visited by local and state authorities at the end of February. The house, located Luhman Terrace near Franklin Street, is zoned for single family use.

The inspectors found enough evidence to charge the owner with operating an illegal rooming and boarding house as well as various other state and local violations.

Following a press release from the town regarding the situation, several other homes are being investigated for possible similar violations.

The rationale

According to the State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs website, “The Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards is responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the Rooming and Boarding House Act of 1979.”

That means the bureau mandates certain requirements for all rooming and boarding homes in the state, and evaluates them “for the physical safety and social well being of the resident population.”

“There are rules for multifamily homes,” explained Gonnelli. “First of all you have to have proper exits. If there’s a fire in the basement, people can’t get out.”

Other issues related to illegal boarding houses can impact neighborhoods, including a potential increase in the number of vehicles and transients on local streets.

Still, illegal boarding houses continue to crop up throughout the state, for the simplest of reasons. “Why? For money, pretty simple,” said Gonnelli.
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“We’re investigating at least two other locations.” --Michael Gonnelli
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Rental rooms in boarding houses tend to be considerably cheaper than official apartments, making them especially appealing to people with tight budgets. And homeowners see a way to make a few extra dollars from unused space.

A visit from the authorities

“Every neighbor on the block has been calling nonstop,” said Gonnelli about the house on Luhman Terrace. “Complaining about the cars from all over the world on the street and the noise that emanates from the house.”

In fact, the house had long been suspected of being a boarding house and was visited several times in the past by inspectors.

“Every time that [inspectors] went in the past they notified the homeowner that they were coming,” said Gonnelli, noting the standard protocol. “They had to do that because it’s very hard to get into a one family home.”

It can also be difficult to ascertain whether a home has been repurposed as a boarding house if the residents aren’t present, although there are certain telltale signs, like locks on bedrooms.

“This time somebody who was in the home came forward and filed a complaint,” said Gonnelli. “That allowed us to gain access.”

Per procedure, representatives of the Rooming and Boarding bureau accompanied Secaucus police and construction officers in investigating the house.

According to reports, the single-family home was occupied by at least four occupants. Two beds were located in the basement, with a room on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second floor, and renovations had been made without proper permits.

The owner is facing possible fines of $33,000 for construction code violations and fire hazards.

More to come

“The reason we did the press release was to bring attention to that type of situation,” said Gonnelli.

Apparently it worked. “By putting that out, it made other people come forward and give us additional information,” he said.

In the wake of the high-profile Luhman Terrace situation, which was covered by The Reporter and other papers and posted on the Town of Secaucus website, numerous individuals have provided tips about other potential boarding houses in town.

“We’re seriously looking into them,” said Gonnelli. “We’re investigating at least two other locations.”

Further details were unavailable as the investigation was ongoing.

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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