Portside Towers tenants in Jersey City buoyed by recent N.J. Supreme Court decision


The Portside Towers Tenants Associations in Jersey City are gearing up for their long anticipated rent leveling board hearing, going in feeling optimistic due to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The New Jersey Supreme Court denied the petition for certification in Willow Ridge Apartments, LLC v. Union City Rent Stabilization Board.

The denial upholds the appellate division’s decision that essentially says “no filing, no exemption,” the slogan of the Portside Towers Tenants Associations who are fighting with their landlord, Equity Residential, over large-scale rent increases.

“In both cases, the landlords’ inclusion of a rent control addendum claiming an exemption did not meet the notice requirement. Thus there was no basis for the notice due to the lack of a valid exemption,” Portside Towers East Tenant Association President Kevin Weller told HCV.

“The court’s decision emphasizes that the notice requirements are mandatory to receive the exemption. Subsequent owners of exempted properties should ensure their predecessors complied with all statutory requirements.”

He added that he’s anticipating their rent leveling hearing to take place during a special meeting on the week of April 17th or April 24th.

In the Willow Ridge case, the court decided owners of newly constructed residential buildings must provide written notice to the municipal construction official at least 30 days before a property occupancy certificate is issued.

Current owners must also prove that the original owners complied with this notice of claim requirement to avoid losing the property’s exempt status.

Weller further argued their case mirrors the Willow Ridge one since the original owners of Portside Towers at 155 Washington Street and 100 Warren failed to comply with the filing requirement.

Additionally, the Portside Towers East Tenant Association and the Portside Towers West Tenant Association have retained attorney Neil Marotta, counsel to the Union City Rent Leveling Board who represented them in the Willow Ridge case.

Marotta will be representing both associations in two separate Jersey City Rent Leveling Board hearings within about a one-month time frame.

“As the rent control dispute between the tenants of Portside Towers in Jersey City and their landlord continues, the city’s refusal to enforce rent control ordinances, which share the exact same language as Union City’s ordinances, is becoming increasingly awkward and obvious,” Weller declared.

“Despite this, Jersey City officials have been evasive in enforcing the ordinance, raising questions about their commitment to upholding the law.”

In the Willow Ridge case, the enforcement of rent control was upheld at every level of government, beginning with the rent leveling board and ending at the Supreme Court.

Weller feels it would be a potentially costly outcome for the landlord and the city if the tenants have their day in court.

During an appearance on NJ Spotlight News’ “Chat Box” last night, Mayor Steven Fulop, who had previously declined to comment on the Portside matter ahead of their board hearing, stated that he felt the city has consistently upheld rent control rules.

“Let me say we are enforcing rent control laws and specific on the Portside front, there is a process with regards to any person who feels that their rent is wrongfully raised and they go in front of a board and the board of their peers adjudicates it,” he said in the interview.

“In the instance of the Portside situation, a lawyer from the city that led the department took a look at the facts of that case, rendered a decision that was counter to those residents interests – and I’ll point out that she is not a political person. She looks at the facts as she sees them and the easier thing for her to do would’ve been just for her to do what the residents wanted her to do but she tried to do only what was the right thing to do.”

The Portside Towers Tenants Associations have been protesting at Jersey City Council meetings for several months. Council members have exclaimed repeatedly that they are taking a thorough look into rent control, though no local legislation has emerged yet.

Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore, along with city code enforcement officials, attended their town hall earlier this month in hopes of rectifying some of their issues.

The Portside Towers Tenants Associations have partnered with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Hudson County chapter to raise affordable housing concerns and the need for a right to counsel.

The first reading of the right to counsel ordinance is tentatively set to be heard at the April 12th Jersey City Council meeting.

To date, the Portside Towers residents have raised just shy of $23,000 for legal representation in their cases via a GoFundMe page.

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