Jersey City officials attended a Tenant Town Hall at Portside Towers last night to hear from residents about their struggles at the complex.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
As she has said previously, Jessica Brann began by stating that some tenants are getting 34 annual rent increases periodically.
“Is there any way to pause it? What’s unconscionable?” she asked.
“We already have stuff that’s not being followed: It’s not enforced. We’ve had two new complaints submitted, and we haven’t heard anything,” Portside Towers East Tenant Association President Kevin Weller said.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon explained the Jersey City landlord-tenant office is the same size as its counterpart in Union City, a municipality that is at least four times smaller.
“We have been showing up for months now. When is the city acting? What are we not doing?” Weller asked.
Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore said there is an administrative process and if they aren’t satisfied with that result, they should contact Mayor Steven Fulop’s office.
“The issue is that of the administration ruling, there is the process, right? This is when we get to a battle of interpretation. The interpretation from the administration is to go through this process. We don’t tell directors what to do. You do the filing, and there’s all these appeals. I would urge you to reach out to the mayor.”
Solomon explained that after the landlord-tenant office rules, the decision goes to the rent leveling board and then to court as a last resort.
“If I had a job where I produced a work product every two months, I would be fired. It’s long turnaround times. We’re not seeing the delivery on whether someone has an exemption or not. The default is not. Why can’t we get that?” Brann questioned.
Portside Towers West Tenant Association President Michele Hirsch said that neither of the two buildings mentioned has filed a rent control exemption.
“There’s no (rent control exemption) filing for either of these buildings,” Portside Towers West Tenant Association President Michele Hirsch said.
She also noted former Landlord Tenant Office Director Dinah Hendon ultimately ruled that if an exemption existed, it expired.
“We would like the rents looked at [to see] if we overpaid. The onus is on the owner to have the documentation, and they don’t, and we’ve been doing this since … May 31st,” stated Hirsch.
“We can make that the default. If you win this case … Equity is responsible for consumer fraud damages,” Solomon noted.
He explained that the stakes were high since they would have to pay millions of dollars if they lost.
“Nobody believes anything is happening. We need transparency in the whole process,” Weller said after a tenant questioned if Equity Residential may just try to wait them out.
He reiterated that Hendon said they were rent controlled, to which Solomon confirmed she said that in an email.
“We got the documents. Then she said perhaps all the documentation were clerical errors,” Perhaps we can’t find them. She said it’s one way and changed her mind. There’s a lot of money at stake,” Weller added, calling for the council to vote on a measure assuring them a weekly update.
Solomon explained that he’s working with Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh on a rent control ordinance to help them and could provide an update soon.
“We don’t want nine months of updates. We’ve had people leave,” Weller interjected. “Lock it down, so there’s nowhere for bad actors to go,” he said to applause.
“I know he’s committed to it. We are all actively working on other things as well. You’ve been able to put significant pressure and get a ruling. There’s significant momentum for structural reform … that will help lots of people across the city,” Solomon said, indicating that approving a formal resolution to give updates was not practical.
Additionally, residents complained of cracks in the floor and walls, along with sloped floors.
“That’s construction code: I believe you’re building is inspected every year,” Jersey City Code Compliance Director Joe Barrow said, noting that his office can send out notices of violation for the issues they mentioned, among other things.
Solomon said new inspections are due later this year and that such employees must be truthful, or they could lose their licenses.
Throughout the meeting, several tenants also asked where Fulop stood on these issues.
“I can’t speak for the mayor per se, but we encourage stability. Affordability, oh my goodness, has been a tremendous issue,” Gilmore replied.
“Developers have a record of being greedy. It’s beyond capitalism. As a council, we have to come up with legislation. Everything in this town is so politically connected.”
Solomon also said that while they couldn’t speak for the administration, he and Gilmore support right to counsel.
“We vote. We know who’s supporting the tenants. We know who doesn’t show up,” Hirsch said, later indicating that she may confront Fulop about this at public events.
“We all know Fulop is running for Governor. He doesn’t want to piss off Equity. Equity is going to come after the city. The only way this is going to get resolved is in court.”
Gilmore encouraged the tenants to stay the course even though “the system is designed to crush you,” while Solomon said he would reach out to housing law clinics for further help.
Fulop said today that he could not comment since the matter is under review.
“There is a legal process that the tenants are undergoing now and it would be highly inappropriate for me to weigh in on an issue that is before a quasi-judicial process.”