A judge has ruled that certain Union City rent control calculations are unconstitutional on Tuesday, though the order is temporarily suspended due to three stay orders issued today.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Since the court found that a lack of pre-deprivation notice renders the ordinance unconstitutional as applied, it is also unconstitutional on its face,” Hudson County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Espinales-Maloney wrote on Tuesday.
“Plaintiff is also correct in that the court did not address its request for a judgment declaring that the municipal Defendants cannot rely upon any prior rent determination … Accordingly, the Court amends the June 23 Order to grant summary judgment in Plaintiff’s favor to the extent it seeks a judgment declaring that any rent determination calculated without a pre-deprivation hearing is invalid.”
1700 Bergenline LLC, also known as Bergenline New Jersey, LP filed a lawsuit in this matter about two years ago.
According to the Union City Housing Initiative, who was not party to the suit but supported the outcome, the city altered its procedures after the suit was filed, but they still believe this week’s decisions will encourage landlords to appeal previous legal rent calculations performed by the city.
The decision comes on the heels of another “landmark case,” the UCHI said, in which the rent control board admitted that it failed to recognize that property owners had the right to decontrol rents from 1995-2013 – a practice that resulted in inaccurate legal rent determinations.
They were represented by Adrienne LePore, of Feinstein Raiss Kelin Booker & Goldstein in both instances.
“The decision in this case validates what property owners have been saying for decades: that Union City’s practices have been notoriously unbalanced in favor of tenants,” stated UCHI Executive Director Ron Simoncini.
“In these cases, the Rent Control Office and the Administration itself would encourage tenants to challenge their rents and then make a favorable determination for tenants before even notifying their own Rent Leveling Board of the matter – forget the property owner. As a result, hundreds of property owners collected less rent than they were entitled to – with total damages in the hundreds of millions.”
In a Zoom hearing with members of the press late this afternoon, Simoncini said a hearing on the stay is already scheduled for next Thursday, and in any event, they expect the city to challenge the decision, therefore, the case is likely far from over.
“We expect Union City to appeal and fight back to this and they requested a clarification and the judge stayed until she can provide the clarification which they scheduled for next Thursday,” he explained.
“This has been going on a long time and will go on until they’ve exhausted their appeals. We can’t enforce her decision until she has an opportunity to explain and answer questions next week.”
Cindy N. Vogelman, a partner at Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, confirmed that the city would file an appeal if necessary.
“Mayor Brian Stack remains fully committed to the preservation of the Union City rent control ordinance and the protection of tenants residing in Union City,” she told HCV.
“Our firm will continue to vigorously defend these court actions and the constitutionality of the rent control ordinance in the trial court and will seek immediate appellate relief, should it become necessary.”