On May 6, the Jersey City Council will vote on the final reading of an ordinance designed to protect renters in rent-controlled apartments during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ordinance, unanimously introduced by the council on April 15, would freeze rent at these units by not permitting landlords to impose any rent increases or late fees through Aug. 1 or the end of the public health crisis whichever is later.
“Many Jersey City residents are or will be experiencing substantial loss of income as a result of business closures, reductions in hours, or layoffs related to COVID-19, impeding their ability to keep current on rent payments and … housing security and stability are important to public health, particularly as homelessness can increase vulnerability to COVID-19,” states the ordinance. “Freezing current rents will at least provide assurance that their housing expenses will not increase during this current public health crisis.”
According to the ordinance, the protection does not apply to residents of federal, state, or local rental assistance programs where rent is fixed as a percentage of income.
Ron Simoncini of the Jersey City Property Owners Association said that while he and members of the association understood the drive to freeze rents, and pledge to do so for 90 days, as an organization they are committed to protecting constitutional rights and property rights.
He said that the onus is on landlords to address tenants who are impacted by the virus as individuals, which they are committed to doing.
He said the ordinance was missing language that states how landlords can raise rents once the health emergency is over.
One resident who called into the virtual meeting said he lives in a rent-controlled building in Jersey City and supported the rent freeze, calling it a prudent measure.
He said he and his wife are directly impacted because as of May 1, his landlord will raise their rent.
“I don’t think anyone is asking for free rent,” he said. “I think people are looking for a safeguard.”
Possible rent freeze expansion
Councilman James Solomon said he wants to expand the ordinance implementing rent freezes to include more units, such as in one-to- four-family homes. He also wants to ensure that should there be a second wave of the virus, or a similar public health emergency, the freeze would automatically take effect.
“This draft only talks about this public health emergency,” Solomon said. “God forbid there’s a second round of infections in the fall or winter, and a public health emergency is declared, then this rent freeze would automatically kick in.”
Councilman Richard Boggiano said he did not think the ordinance should be expanded to include one-to-four-family homes because he believes landlords won’t raise rents.
“There are enough guarantees from the governor and everybody else,” Boggiano said. “You are going to tick off a lot of people, and most people are not going to raise most people’s rents right now.”
Solomon said he has already heard from constituents that landlords were raising rents.
“One of them produced a viral video that their landlord was going to raise their rent by $200,” he said.
Solomon said he plans to introduce an ordinance expanding the rent freeze protection at the April 22 council meeting with a final reading in May.
Noting the city’s steps to protect renters during the pandemic, Councilwoman Denise Ridley said she would like to see a program to protect property owners and asked at the caucus meeting if the collection of taxes could be delayed.
Business Administrator Brian Platt said that “the city isn’t authorized to do that at this time” because it doesn’t have the authority to change the due date. Those changes have to be made at the state level.