The new ordinance limits rent increases each year to 3 percent, or the percent of the local Consumer Price Index for the year before. Previous ordinances had set 3.5 percent as the maximum.
Senior citizens can qualify for a maximum of 2 percent, which was present in previous ordinances. However, the age at which senior tenants can qualify has dropped to 62 from 65 under the new ordinance.
“We do not want our senior citizens not to be able to live in the home they grew up in,” said Neil Marotta, a city lawyer discussing the new protections at the meeting.
The commissioners adopted new rent regulations because of conditions within the city that they say have caused a housing emergency. These conditions include housing demolition, insufficient new housing creation, and increased construction costs.
The ordinance also prevents landlords who bring illegal rental units up to code from renting them at market value afterwards, a common gentrification tactic. From now on, any such units have to rent at the average of all rent controlled units in the building.
“We just want to get those unscrupulous landlords who are not charging the proper rents and taking advantage of tenants.” – Brian Stack
New landlords of a property must now obtain rent calculations from the Rent Control Office as a condition of acquiring property certificates. They must give the calculations to tenants.
“This ordinance puts the burden on the property owner to advise when a new tenant comes in, that there is rent control in effect, and what the proper rent calculation is in their unit,” Marotta said.
The ordinance also expands the rental statements that landlords must give to new tenants. They must now include addresses for the corporate officers or LLC members, depending on if the building’s record owner is a corporation or LLC.
“A lot of times, a property is owned by a corporation,” Marotta said. “Nobody knows who that corporation is. So now if something goes wrong, a tenant can reach out to that person.” Landlords must also let new tenants know about the new ordinance provisions in general before they move in.
There is no timeframe for when rent controlled units will no longer be covered. However, rent control does not apply to owner-occupied four-family homes under the ordinance. Before, there was an exception applied for five and six family homes as well. Check with the city to confirm whether your specific type of rental is covered or which laws pertain to your building, as they may vary.
Targeting bad landlords
Union City Mayor Brian Stack, a longtime tenants rights advocate, spoke at the meeting about the need to regulate rentals in town.
“I see now more the need for rent control in Union City,” Stack said. “People that don’t have the means are being forced out, and it’s not fair. People who’ve lived in Union City deserve to stay here if they want to, and we want to ensure that.”
“We just want to get those unscrupulous landlords who are not charging the proper rents and are taking advantage of tenants,” he added.
Other provisions of the ordinance
Under the ordinance, if a landlord splits up responsibility for paying central utilities (heat, hot water) in a unit that previously had been paid by the landlord, and a new tenant moves in and is found responsible for the monthly costs, the unit’s base rent (on which the increases are based) will decrease by 20 percent.
“Let’s say an apartment’s vacant,” Marotta explained. “The landlord goes ahead and puts in a boiler for that unit. The rent was $700, but the utilities were included. Now a new tenant comes in. The rent’s still required to be $700 because of rent control. Now the tenant has to pay that utility. So it’s not [really] $700 anymore – it’s $700 plus. This prohibits landlords from doing that.”
In efforts to keep property owners in Union City, and better improve landlord-tenant relations, the ordinance also mandates that owners prove that they live at the location they list as their one place of residence.
“We want owners to live in Union City and take care of their properties,” Marotta said. “It gives them the opportunity to charge their tenants more rent, but we're requiring that they live there.”
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