The lawyer representing the Union City Housing Initiative, a property owners group who filed a lawsuit last month to overturn local rent hike and eviction freezes, is sparring over a new, related bill introduced by state Senator Brian Stack (D-33).
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
UCHI counsel Charles Gormally contends that bill 2485, sponsored by Stack, was introduced after they filed a legal challenge against Union City and Stack – in his capacity as mayor – as a way to unilaterally make his two previous executive orders legal.
“While the governor doesn’t want people to become homeless during a pandemic, you certainly don’t want Union City, Jersey City, Newark, or New Brunswick landlords to establish their own rules of eviction during a state of emergencies,” Gormally said over the phone yesterday.
“And only Union City has decided they had to rewrite the state law. Even after the emergency is over, they still can’t be evicted: that’s fundamentally rewriting the tenant-landlord bargain here in New Jersey.”
The legislation would potentially allow municipalities to end eviction freezes “on the first day of the third month following the conclusion of the State of Emergency or Public Health Emergency, whichever is later.”
The Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee declined to review the bill last week, but they approved an amended version during a hearing today. The latest version of the bill was not immediately available.
On March 19th, Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 106, halting foreclosures and evictions for the duration of coronavirus pandemic, but the Union City Board of Commissioners still approved a rent hike moratorium and an eviction freeze the following month.
While a Hudson County Superior Court judge denied an initial court action to overturn Union City’s renter relief measures, the case is still pending.
“Housing security and stability have been vital in reducing the exposure and continued spread of the COVID-19 virus and to threaten that is callous and doing so under the pretense that they are helping tenants is hypocritical,” said Stack spokeswoman Erin Knoedler.
“Senator/Mayor Stack has and will always fight to protect tenants’ rights. With respect to S-2485, the whole point of having a bill go to committee is to incite debate and possible amendments by the bill’s sponsor. That is the exact process for a bill to become a law and not out of the ordinary.”
While Gormally praised Stack, which Murphy also did, for helping move forward a $100 million statewide rent relief fund, he argued that a state senator should not be using his influence to get results in the city where he serves as mayor.
“Running roughshod over constitutional protections and annexing private property is flatly abusive government,” Gormally exclaimed.
“The sad part is, not only does this harm property owners and the long term interests of the City in its housing stock, it does not even help tenants: the tactics he is using have been proven time and time again by academics to fail in even protecting existing affordable housing.”
In a preliminary statement filed on behalf of the city, they argue that repealing their ordinances under normal circumstances would be “draconian” at best and would be “northing short of catastrophic” during a pandemic.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information.