After roughly a year of complaints that included a hearing in June, the Jersey City Rent Leveling Board ruled that the two Portside Towers buildings are subject to rent control at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Board Chair Albert Cupo explained at the beginning of the meeting that while a written decision would not be rendered for about three week, the board was prepared to rule on the case Thursday evening.
He noted that Portside Towers Tenants Association Counsel Neil Marotta had sought to submit letters describing precedents recently set in Hoboken, where PTTA President Kevin Weller spoke on tenants behalf, and Woodbridge that ruled in favor of rent control.
The board unanimously voted (5-0) to not have them entered as evidence, with Commissioner Elda Pinchinat absent (she arrived late).
Attorney Derek Reed, a partner at the Newark-based law firm Ehrlich, Petriello, Gudin, Plaza & Reed, represented Portside Urban Renewal LLC and Equity Residential Management LLC.
“There was a previous letter dated October 12th. I would also submit that should be disregarded,” he said.
“I would want to be heard on that,” Marotta said.
“We’re going to deny that as well,” Cupo quickly replied.
Marotta said they sought to use the case in Woodbridge as precedent in their favor.
“It has to be considered by you because it’s the law. I don’t see how it could be denied in that respect. It’s very relevant to a decision tonight,” he argued.
“I want to allow counsel to put their objections on the record. We’re not done litigating this after tonight,” Board attorney Tom Slattery said.
He explained that since the public portion was closed and the letters were submitted after the fact, they could not use them to render their decision.
Prior to the vote, Cupo asked his fellow commissioners for their thoughts on the case, where Portside tenants at 155 Warren St. and 100 Washington St. have alleged they were subjected to unconscionable rental hikes that violate rent control laws.
“I find that the notice requirement at 100 Warren was insufficient,” Commissioner Sullivan Johnson III declared.
“The building has an exemption to local rent control, but they must first notify tenants. I didn’t feel that requirement had been met. We should favor the position that was taken by the tenants. The building did not qualify.”
Commissioner Mark Isikoff concurred, as did Commissioner Alexander Hamilton.
“I concur with my fellow commissioners. I’m a little disappointed in the process, too. I know everyone was here months ago. We said the lawyers should meet and discuss this,” Hamilton stated.
“No matter what happens, this is going to be appealed to a higher party. Too many rules were not followed and skipped over and not followed. I concur with my fellow commissioners.”
Commissioner Dannon Hill said tenants are being treated unfairly in Jersey City and across the country all too often these days and intimated that Equity Residential, who owns the buildings, did not do their due diligence in filing for an exemption.
“I believe that when you have multiple dwellings, it’s supposed to be rent controlled. I believe the landlord didn’t … notify the tenant. I’ll go with the tenants,” Pinchinat stated.
“This was an 80s project. The original intent was to condo the two buildings, which was the time in the world in the 80s to convert. In 1987, there was a crash. Unfortunately, the building fell into foreclosure. The foreclosure was bought out, they looked to rent it. They did. It should be in rent control as well. I happen to agree,” Cupo explained.
He asked Slattery to see how far back the rent control ordinance would apply.
“An illegal rent petition under our ordinance has to be filed within two years. The board could consider other options. To recalculate what the rents should be. I can put in a resolution … so it’s clear to the parties,” Slattery replied.
He added the city can look back a maximum of six years under the statute of limitations.
“In consideration of the illegal rent petition appeal that has been presented to this board, I am making a motion we do side with the tenants. The exemption from rent control was not fulfilled by requirements,” Johnson declared.
The Jersey City Rent Control Board passed the motion unanimously (6-0).
“It took a long time coming. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking your time to come tonight,” Cupo said as the room erupted in applause and cheers over the victory.
The Portside Towers tenants have been protesting at city council meetings for close to a year, demanding action and criticizing the mayor and city council for their perceived inaction that allowed this to occur.
While the council was at times sympathetic, they said the tenants would have to go through the proper channels, such as the rent leveling board.