Jersey City Council unanimously approves final reading of right-to-counsel measures


The Jersey City Council unanimously approved (9-0) the final reading of their right-to-counsel measures at last night’s meeting after over two hours of discussion.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The local law would require the city to provide an attorney to tenants, free of charge, in the event that their landlord takes them to court. This would be addressed by a new RTC office established in City Hall.

The second related ordinance would have development fees cover the costs, with 20 percent of the money allocated to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund used to fund the RTC, with 80 percent earmarked for other miscellaneous affordable housing policies.

“70 percent of Jersey City are tenants. I’m really excited to have support from our city. We need to build power for our tenants who are constantly under attack,” Hudson County Democratic Socialists of America and RTC activist Jake Ephros explained.

He said tenants with health and safety problems like mold can now take slum lords to court without fear of being evicted on a loophole.

“Not having the stressors of pending evictions means this is certainly worth an investment. This region, this area is among the most expensive in the country. It is tough for many people in the city,” Rev. Ritney Castine, a member of Jersey City Together.

She also who spoke in favor when the development aspect fee of RTC cleared the planning board in April.

“I’m a small landlord. I enthusiastically support the right to counsel. I’m not an anti-development person,” advocate and Waterfront Project board member Katie Brennan said.

“Landlords like me have too much power. It’s too easy to evict someone illegally. Almost all landlords come with representation. Almost no tenants do.”

Waterfront Project Executive Director Carol Sainthilaire and their legal director, Lissette Diaz, also came out in support of the proposal.

“This crisis has disproportionately affected low-income people and families pushing them to the brink of homelessness,” Sainthilaire said.

“We are seeing an eviction crisis unfold before our eyes. We need right to counsel: We want to level the playing field,” added Diaz.

While the vast majority spoke in favor, a few also said the proposal was incomplete and/or misleading.

“Regarding representation, landlords and corporations are required, by law, to appear in court with representation. Tenants do not have to do that, but landlords and corporations are,” said Jersey City Apartment Owners Association Executive Director Wendy Paul.

“Another fact is that there is a comprehensive plan to provide direct assistance to tenants, currently with the county. This is funded through the county’s budget, prioritizing the need and not burdening the stakeholders in addition to the costs and taxes.”

Angelique Diaz, the Republican state Assembly nominee in the 31st Legislative District and a landlord, was far harsher with her remarks.

“I would really respect this ordinance if it was called what it really is, which is a right to gaslight because I truly feel that these individuals believe that the right to counsel is going to save them from eviction: it’s not,” she began.

“Right to counsel is just going to employ more lawyers and friends of leadership of Jersey City. They’re going to be evicted any way … These tenants, these socialists, think that everything needs to be free and this is encouraging bad behavior because not paying rent is bad behavior.”

Jersey City Property Owners Association Executive Director Ron Simoncini was heckled a bit during his remarks, but still insisted that RTC would not actually help the affordable housing stock and/or tenants who are unable to pay rent.

“I’ve been living in a house for five years. I stopped paying rent because of mold, piss leaks. I had to pay… before I would be homeless with my kids. There ain’t no help for tenants. Y’all should have a rule checking landlord’s background,” noted tenant William Jordan.

“I support right to counsel. It’s anti-slumlord … real Democrats support right to counsel,” said LD-31 Democratic Assembly nominee and Jersey City Democratic Organization Chair Barbara Stamato.

She was one of many politicians from the HCDO who endorsed the policy a few hours before the council meeting yesterday.

“Once a low-income family is caught in the spiral of eviction, it is almost impossible to get out,” said Suzanne Byrne, the  director of the York Street Project, which provides assistance to homeless populations.

She said that the average stay in their homeless shelter has recently gone from 119 days to 170 days.

“There has been a housing crisis and an affordability crisis in this city for some time. It has gotten worse in the last three years,” Byrne said.

“I end losing up 70 percent of my friends because they cannot afford to live here. They have no money to fight in the court,” recent Democratic Hudson County commissioner candidate Mamta Singh said.

After public comment ended, the majority of the council members had a lot to say before casting their vote.

“We have to do something. There’s issues on both sides. Not every landlord is rich. We have a lot of seniors and fixed-income property owners in my ward,” Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley said before voting aye.

“There are lot of crises we have been facing. My council colleagues will echo the number of calls we get asking for help,” Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey

She added that temporary rental assistance could help, along with working with the county, as well as that she was given assurances that amendments could be still be made before full implementation in January 2026.

“The people who sponsored this should speak to the real estate people. I want you to promise to speak to them,” Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano said before voting yes.

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, one of the three original sponsors, spelled out how RTC would theoretically worked and thanked the advocates who helped make this happen.

“There are so many units that are offline that can be used to house these individuals. I see this as an American issue. We have seen the pendulum swing too far on direction,” he said about gentrification.

Ward E Councilman James Solomon said many tenants deal with landlords who put them in precarious situations, like purposely turning off the heat before the weekend, in order to force them out. He said RTC will prevent this in the future.

“This is about leveling the playing field, ensuring everyone has a fair shot. It [your home] should never be taken away from you illegally.”

He also noted that that developer and landlords hired attorneys to argue their point of view, which proves the point that tenants need consistent legal representation.

Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore noted he himself is a landlord.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer. Give them representation. We’re not even saying side with them. Whoever has been in court for a speeding ticket knows it’s scary. It is a scary process,” he said noting that landlords doing the right thing don’t have anything to worry about.

“It’s not perfect. But it’s in the right direction, being a city of majority renters. We’ll continue working on the framework,” said Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise

“We were listening. Maybe we weren’t staring at you. Great job today,” Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera said of the grassroots effort, giving a shout out to Kevin Weller, who has been a key organizer in the Portside Towers rental increase saga.

“People are losing their homes constantly. We adjusted it so people can definitely pull from rental assistance. There will be more people homeless unless we do anything. It’s really a money issue,” Watterman said, cautioning that there is no easy remedy for non-payment of rent.

“I do want you to stay … I’ve been trying to go after slum landlords,” she added, noting that LLCs make it difficult to track bad actors.

The development fees were then briefly discussed.

Saleh wanted to amend the resolution referring the developer’s fee ordinance to the planning board, exempting owner occupied to one- to four-family homes.

Several prior speakers spoke in favor before that ordinance was also approved unanimously (9-0).

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