Two competing ordinances will be up for second and final readings before the Jersey City Council on May 6, when the members will vote to protect tenants by enacting a moratorium on some rent increases.
The first, introduced unanimously on April 15, seeks to protect tenants in rent-controlled units only. Landlords will not be permitted to impose any rent increases or late fees through Aug. 1 or the end of the public health crisis, whichever is later.
The second, unanimously introduced on April 22 and sponsored by Councilman James Solomon, would expand the rent freeze to include units within one-to-four-family buildings that are not owner-occupied.
Solomon and Councilman Jermaine Robinson suggested combining the two ordinances on second reading, but City Attorney Nick Strasser said that since the first rent-freeze ordinance already passed on first reading, the council could not merge the two ordinances.
He said the council could have merged them if they were both at first reading.
He added that the council could not vote to adopt both ordinances on second reading in May because contradictory language in each would make the new law confusing.
“No matter what form this one takes, one has to pass, and one has to fail because they are inconsistent,” Strasser said.
Originally Solomon’s ordinance included all one- to four-family buildings and would have ended when the public health emergency ended instead of on Aug. 1. It also included a clause that would have re-instituted the rent freeze should the governor reestablish the public health emergency due to a resurgence or second wave of COVID-19.
The legislation was met with resistance in the city council caucus meetings primarily from Councilman Richard Boggiano, who opposed the end date and inclusion of one- to four-family homes.
During the April 20 caucus meeting, Boggiano said that the ordinance shouldn’t include one-to-four-family homes and was “crucifying” those “small homeowners” because they still had to try to pay their property taxes.
“The taxpayer is getting royally screwed, and that’s wrong, and I don’t think they should be part of it, the one-to-four families,” Boggiano said, noting that he received several calls from residents in Ward C and Ward D opposing the inclusion of one-to-four-family buildings and voicing concerns regarding property taxes.
Solomon said most homeowners have the option of mortgage forbearance but that renters, specifically not in rent-controlled units, don’t have protections.
“I feel like we have to protect these folks who don’t have any protections,” he said.
Boggiano said he believed landlords would not raise rents during the pandemic.
“If they are not going to raise them, Councilman Boggiano, then this won’t negatively impact them,” said Councilman Rolando Lavarro, who added that more than 70 percent of residents in Jersey City are renters, many of whom were “cost-burdened pre-COVID, pre-pandemic.”
“We are going to see a crisis here of unprecedented proportions and we need to have a response that matches that … and we have to demonstrate to the Jersey City public that we understand the severity of this challenge right now,” Lavarro said.
Boggiano said taxes are due May 1, and “homeowners are struggling right now.”
Business Administrator Brian Platt said the city has no authority to change the tax due date because that power lies with the state.
He said there is a 10-day grace period permitted for homeowners to pay taxes.
During the April 22 council meeting, Boggiano voted to introduce the ordinance considering the new amendments.
“As long as it ends on August 1st, I’ll go along with it,” he said.