Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla vetoed Hoboken rent control amendments approved in a 5-4 vote by the city council last week, prompting the Mile Square Taxpayers Association to vow to do a vacancy decontrol referendum.
“As I communicated to the City Council, I appreciate what I believe to be the Council’s good faith attempt to clarify confusion on the rent control ordinance and previous amendments that were passed,” Bhalla said in his veto statement.
“However, I believe that the April 19 amendments passed 5-4 by the City Council will have the effect of gradually eliminating rent control in Hoboken within the next 10 years, or sooner. The proposed amendments, which I believe to be flawed, allow landlords and property owners to bank rent increases in rent-controlled units that for whatever reason they decide not to impose on a current tenant, and then legally levy a large, banked increase on the next tenant.”
The mayor continued that this provision, which has been common practice in the Mile Square City in recent years, could lead to rent increases and the depletion of housing stock, as well as that he’d like to work with the council on a different approach.
The amendments included rent permitted to be charged under the rent control ordinance, leaving rent control calculations up to the rent control office (with tenants able to receive the calculations upon request) – among other things.
The measure was sponsored by 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino, with 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, and 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo joining them in voting yes.
In her own statement, Fisher said Bhalla’s description of the approved amended ordinance was disingenuous at best.
“For three decades the practice by Hoboken’s Rent Control office, including twelve years under Mayor Bhalla’s watch, has allowed landlords to charge future tenants accrued or ‘banked’ annual CPI rent increases that had not previously been charged to existing tenants,” she said.
“When this provision was eliminated by five City Council votes in February, a move that was almost universally opposed by tenants and landlords alike, the future of Hoboken’s rent control laws were threatened. By taking money out of property owners’ pockets, many who are long-term Hoboken residents on fixed incomes, to benefit future tenants and not existing ones, it only created even more incentives for property owners to get out from under rent control either via condo conversion or a promised ballot measure that risks eliminating rent control altogether.”
MSTA Executive Director Ron Simoncini, who helped come up with the amendments with tenant advocate Cheryl Fallick, said in an email to his members obtained in HCV that they would be moving forward with a referendum to fight back against the veto.
“Property owners are being asked to live with a 5% increase in their revenue while the City seeks to impose a 6.1% tax increase and cuts services. Does that mean property owners should cut services? That is not how we want to treat our residents,” he wrote.
“As a result, the previous housing policy, which was barely livable, has been undermined to the point of provocation. Our only option to continue to be able to serve our customers and save the value of our investments is to take our issue directly to the public. We will launch a Referendum for Vacancy Decontrol next week. Stay tuned for details and the language for the public question.”
Fallick, who was key player in getting a Hoboken rent control referendum defeated in 2011, said this situation was totally avoidable if the administration had acted responsibly.
“It’s a shame that a referendum was always a possibility with this since they were difficult to defeat 10 years ago and the fact that we’re in this predicament is solely at the feet of the administration and the council members who voted for the first version,” Fallick said.
“I’m very concerned for the future of rent control in Hoboken due to the political and petty actions of this administration: It’s disgusting, it’s beyond me.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from tenant advocate Cheryl Fallick.