The Jersey City Council heard new issues from the residents of Portside Towers in light of a fall ruling by the rent leveling board and also approved a $21 million emergency appropriation for tax appeals at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
During public comment, Portside Towers East Tenant Association President Kevin Weller noted the Jersey Rent Leveling Board ruled in their favor on October 19th and claims the city has contradicted key aspects of the board’s binding decision since.
“It ignores the board-mandated six-year look-back period for rent recalculations. It erroneously asserts, if not advocates, for Equity [Residential]’s qualifying for certain increases which are not allowable under the law,” he began.
“The bureau’s guidance dismisses material components of the board’s determination despite it being the prevailing legal directive in this matter. This is deeply troubling. For the bureau to now attempt to contravene critical enforcement mandates is a violation of due process and regulatory procedures.”
He continued that this has “cruelly denied” tenants relief and that “partial justice” would not be accepted here. He also called on Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democratic candidate for governor, to ensure the ordinance is enforced.
“In spite of the decision made by the rent leveling board in October, we have yet to see any reduction in our rent. Our landlord has remained mostly silent about this event. Rent renewal proposals have been sent with illegal increases again,” Silvia Meyer said.
“Our monthly rent remains at least $1,000 above legal rates. The building is in a state that has been described by many as worrisome … Equity is not a landlord I would recommend to anyone. They disregard the law, modify official paperwork, include clauses in their contracts that are plain illegal. We hope that you will join us in our fight for justice.”
Suzanne DeFelice said the city has shown “relentless support of the landlord” by not taking quick and firm action to enforce the rent board’s decision.
“There are still shady actions taken by the city to delay justice. For 20 years, our landlord acted like they had an exemption, and they never did and never will. If there’s any update that can be provided, I have 16 seconds,” she said to no reply from the council.
Portside Towers West President Michele Hirsch said the city hired a law firm for $30,000 related to their issues and wanted to know what the finding were.
“[Council] President [Joyce] Watterman and [First Assistant] Corporation Counsel Brittany Murray on the record emphasized that outside independent counsel would scrutinize the processes and policies purportedly followed by the city throughout our illegal rent petition and administrative process. What were the results of that taxpayer-funded effort?” she asked.
“Recent developments indicate a persistent disregard for the law: Watterman indicated that if the city didn’t act lawfully, we should come back here, and she would initiate an investigation. The city hasn’t gotten it right. We must take you up on your offer to investigate immediately.”
The council opted not to comment on any of the discord, but city spokesman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione told HCV today that there is still pending litigation in federal court and that the city must wait on that outcome before taking any action.
“After missing their 15-day window to appeal back in September 2022, the director of the Tenant/Landlord Relations gave the Portside residents group nearly a year’s worth of extensions to encourage them to utilize this system, which, in the end, served its intended purpose and the next steps involve the court’s ruling to enforce the Rent Leveling Board’s opinion, in addition to the landlords’ appeal and lawsuit against the City on this.”
Later, the city approved an emergency $21 million appropriation to cover tax appeal judgements and settlements despite some concerns being expressed by council members at caucus.
“We’re in a tough situation. There’s no good way out of it,” stated Ward E Councilman James Solomon.
He further stated that during a budget hearing in June, he asked what preparation was made for tax appeals and it’s now clear that they weren’t prepared.
“They gave very short, small answers. I followed up. Didn’t get any answers. Now, we sit here in December with a 21 million dollar liability. There was a way to avoid the problem. It is extraordinarily important that we are using every tool in our toolbox,” he exclaimed.
“Know every single possible tax appeal and what our possible liabilities might be. We need to file reverse tax appeals at a significantly greater rate. We need to follow reverse tax appeals against the largest residential buildings on this list. We need to continue to spend as responsibly as possible. We are increasingly pushing costs onto future taxpayers, and it’s going to harm future city governments.”
No one else commented prior to the vote, which passed 6-2: Solomon and Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore voted no, while Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise was absent.