A bombshell of sorts just hit Hoboken but from the lousy news focus from some outlets in this town you couldn't be faulted if it escaped your attention. We exempt our friends at the mother ship of Hoboken Now as they are almost always our source for solid and steady news reporting. The bomb is a ruling from the NJ courts on Hoboken's rent laws or more accurately, the poor administration of them.
Back in the day when we were just a little pony, growing up across the street from Central Park, we'd play soccer with folks from all over the world. The game itself was the language. You'd hear Spanish, Italian and other languages interspersed but the bottom line, the game and your game did the talking. Often we'd be asked "Where are you from?" meaning you don't play like an American. Our fondest memory of that time was being addressed by a Brazilian in Portuguese convinced we were compadres.
Well what's that have to do with rent control? In New York City, ever since World War II, rent control laws have been the de facto way of life. Decade after decade followed with occasional questions raised about the regulation but the calls for continued protection would drown them out and the hackles remain. Rent control was the de rigueur standard of how politicians communicated their caring for the public. What it created was a two tier system: one for those who lucked into such an arrangement and one for those who had not. The latter were almost always people without longstanding ties to the community. In other words if you had moved to New York after college, you would face the highest rents. Why? Because on any given day, the available occupancy rate would always remain around 3%. As a result, demand for those available shoeboxes would be very high. In Manhattan, this would also be compounded by the constant new herd stomping between downtown north of the financial district and up to 96th street running east and west.
Years later, we couldn't help but laugh when we read a report of a junior PR underling who moved to New York and had trouble living in the Big City on her 30K salary. She didn't understand why she wasn't living the "Sex in the City" lifestyle. She had fled middle America after watching the show convinced that she would become another Sarah Jessica Parker. Reality presented something entirely different.
Now we've met lots of these types over the years. They would triple up in one bedroom apartments just so they could say they lived in the Big City with a zip code in the neighborhood of 10001. The irony of course is those who had older seeds planted sponged off the system with no practical restrictions at all. You had millionaire actors with 10 room apartments who lived in California for decades who would sublet "their place" to others and only occasionally using the space themselves if at all. This perversion of ownership has continued for decades and shows no sign of abating in the future. The mere mention of it causes a rush of old ladies on fixed incomes pouring into the street in sheer panic. Does any of this sound familiar? Can you say Church Towers?
So now Hoboken is going to be facing a conversation on the matter. A Hudson County Superior Court Judge looked at the policies in town and observed how owners were being kept from adjusting their rent based on a required form submission to City Hall. The only problem, there was no such form for the owner to submit and the town said the owner could not create and submit one either. How insane is that? Well, that's pretty insane. But rent control is like the third rail on the subway system. To even touch it means you get zapped with immediate life draining current. It's terminal and it's final. As we well know, politicians don't like terminal.
So where do we go from here? The City Council just made an appointment to the Rent Leveling Board and based on all the commentary, it was clear the voice of regulation was alive and well and most certainly in safe, re: pro-regulated hands. Did any questions arise on any of this insanity? Not a solitary word. But the New Jersey Superior Court has looked at this mess and found its religious zeal less than compelling. It's estimated to have cost owners in the neighborhood of $10 million and for others, the draconian application's cost was bankruptcy. And people wonder why the condo rush has been so strong. Well here's part of your answer. Faced with such imposing regulation, building owners figured it's best to get on the condo wagon while the going is good and not have to deal with the city's strangling bureaucracy at all. Of course they then had to figure out how to make the city inspectors happy and come up with ways to satisfy their open palms but that's a story for another day. (Ever try to get a home inspector to take a look at a problem in an offending neighbor's building?)
So if we're lucky maybe this situation will be highlighted and discussed in some capacity in this shortened election season. It's certainly relevant and important enough to voters to do so. Hoboken itself could be on the hook for damages well into seven figures. Yes, again. The town counsel is taking a look at the problem now in City Hall. We suggest they begin a defense strategy to minimize the damage. And there will be damage. The only unknown appears to be the final tally.
And remember, the first politician to demagogue this issue wins. Oh shoot, I just launched another Paul Swibinski flyer campaign.
Talking Ed Note: 5:45 Trying to get a copy of the actual legal opinion filed by the judge in this case. The time period of concern for the town is probably in the middle of the decade but how many building owners it impacted is still unknown. If those folks get together and file a collective action..... (shudder).
Update 9:20 City Hall's legal counsel has weighed in on the matter and disputes any major impact to the current rent control ordinance. This is especially interesting being that the story's release comes on a Friday night and echoes clear concern on what could potentially lend itself to major political fallout. While it's clear the ordinance itself does not appear to be in question, we notice the legal comments coming out of City Hall apply ahead and minimize the past concerns to a "handful." The spokesman for the Mile Square Taxpayers contests that analysis. We tried earlier today to get a copy of the legal opinion and hope to do so by early next week. We'll have a follow up report at some point soon thereafter.
The first casualty in Hoboken's mayoral race is official. Retired police officer Sal DeMeo has withdrawn his candidacy as reported in Hoboken Now.
The drawing for ballot position will be held for the remaining 7 candidates on Monday at 3:00. Some corrections were made to Dawn Zimmer's petitions permitted by law within the 10 day period but were not required based on the valid numbers previously submitted.
Hat tip: Jamie Schuh / The Jersey Journal & Amy Sara Clark / Hoboken Now