With state Senator (D-33) Brian Stack’s bill to allow municipalities to impose individual eviction freezes during the COVID-19 pandemic advancing, the Union City Board of Commissioners have begun repealing their ordinance halting evictions.
The Union City Board of Commissioners unanimously approved (5-0) the first reading of the repeal on Tuesday, with second reading scheduled for July 14th, according to a copy of the ordinance.
The local legislation was first approved back in April.
The move comes in the midst of a lawsuit between Union City, where Stack also serves as mayor, and the Union City Housing Initiative – a property owners group who is arguing that the city’s moratoriums on rent hikes and evictions are “unconstitutional.”
Charles Gormally, the attorney representing the UCHI, said that Stack bent under the pressure of the pending litigation and that the city’s actions prove his client’s assertions were correct.
“This action validates the claims we made about the unconstitutionality of the Ordinance – an Ordinance that violated state law the moment it was adopted – especially in light of Mayor Stack’s failed attempt to change state law to protect it,” Gormally, an attorney from Brach Eichler LLC in Roseland, said yesterday.
“While Mayor Stack also earlier amended the rent freeze ordinance that also is part of our litigation, we are going to see our litigation to its conclusion. Property rights are being trampled in New Jersey right now, and if it was not for the challenges we and others are making, the rights of property owners would be forever compromised.”
However, Union City spokeswoman Erin Knoedler reiterated that the state senate cleared Stack’s bill earlier this month and that was the only reason behind the city starting their repeal, not because of the current litigation.
“It is quite evident that a group of landlords in Union City are engaged in concerted activity to prey on those less fortunate, namely tenants, during the COVID 19 pandemic. Instead of offering a helping hand to tenants, the landlords are offering eviction notices,” she said.
“They have hired high-priced attorneys backed by a public relations machine so they can bamboozle the public and manipulate the press … As a result of [Stack’s] proposed legislation, which the Democratic Senate caucus is supporting, Union City is withdrawing their municipal anti-eviction ordinance in deference to the state wide legislation.”
Gormally also indicated that while he agrees with Stack’s intentions to protect renters,
“the government cannot force private property owners to bear the expenses of housing people who cannot afford to pay – the government needs to underwrite those housing programs.”
Stack is also one of the main sponsors of a $100 million rent relief fund bill that has since been signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who also issued a statewide eviction freeze on March 9th.
In dueling court filings yesterday, the City of Union City, through attorney Ralph Lamparello, said that their eviction freeze ordinance is “moot and the Court need not rule on the same” since they’ve already started rescinding it, though the UCHI predictably did not agree.
“Unless and until the ordinance is actually repealed, the dispute is not moot. We requested that the court declare the Eviction Freeze and preempted by state law and fully briefed and argued the application for TRO, Preliminary and final relief. The ordinance is still in effect and remains a wholly unsustainable ordinance,” Gormally wrote.
Hudson County Superior Court Judge Joseph Turula is presiding over the case.