WARETOWN, NJ - In some municipalities, a certificate of occupancy (“CO”) is required whenever houses are sold. In others, landlords must obtain a CO every time a new tenant moves in. As it now stands, the Township of Ocean has no mandates for either situation.
However, that wasn’t always the case. “The Township Committee ended the requirements for a rental certificate of occupancy in 2011,” shared Diane Ambrosio, Township Clerk, and Business Administrator.
At least one member of the current administration doesn’t seem convinced that stopping the CO rental mandate was necessarily the right thing to do. Township Committeewoman Lydia Dodd said she would like the Township to reintroduce the ordinance.
According to Dodd, the Township rightfully required rental inspections from 1986 until 2011. “After all, we want to see all of our homes safe and maintained well,” Dodd said while acknowledging the many conscientious landlords in the community.
“This is a safety net for all of our residents,” continued Dodd. “In the last four or five years, many people have expressed their concerns to me.”
The proposed ordinance would mandate inspections and also include supplying a record of property ownership and management. Dodd presented a list of requirements that landlords would need to have in place in order to obtain the necessary certificate of occupancy.
Meanwhile, there's no indication whether or not the CO requirements would apply to each new rental or occur on a specified time frame. One resident wondered what would happen for weekly rentals.
“In some of the shore towns, there’s a seasonal type of inspection,” said Ocean Township Attorney Gregory P. McGuckin. “It’s done once a year.” While there’s no draft of the ordinance yet, it could contain language regarding a seasonal inspection.
Residents who attended the September committee meeting expressed strong sentiments for and against Dodd’s proposal to require a certificate of occupancy for all rental dwellings.
“This CO requirement for rental houses absolutely needs to be enforced,” said Scott Ackerman, a Waretown resident, and homeowner. He described three rental properties in his neighborhood that he said needed to be condemned or taken down entirely.
Ackerman commended Waretown residents Bob and Vivian Lange for rehabbing several rental properties. “They can’t do it all,” he added, as he asked committee members to do something about poorly maintained and unsafe properties.
Claire Gallagher of Skippers Cove also spoke in favor of the ordinance and called for inspections with any rental lasting more than a month. Using smoke detectors allegedly destroyed by tenants as an example, Gallagher said, “If we don’t have the inspections, those smoke detectors can go on and on as inoperable – and create an unsafe condition.”
The Langes were among the landlords who spoke out against the ordinance. Bob Lange recalled when the original ordinance first went into place. At the time he thought it was a good idea but now feels otherwise.
“Our building department can’t even keep up with inspections that are supposed to be done in 72 hours,” Lange said. “Sometimes it’s two weeks, and sometimes, it’s four.”
Based on his experience since he moved to the Township in 1985, Lange anticipates the CO requirement would create an unnecessary burden and even more confusion. “People need a place to live,” said Lange. “You can’t make them wait six weeks because of inspections.”
Another landlord, Bryan Muermann, suggested it might be necessary to raise rental rates to make up for the fees and inconvenience associated with obtaining the certificate of occupancy. His wife, Wanda admonished the committee for getting involved. “It’s the homeowner’s responsibility,” she said.
Neither Barnegat nor Lacey Township has a rental CO currently in place. In January of 2018, Toms River authorized its Division of Code Enforcement to "begin accepting initial registrations, conducting inspections, and issuing certificates of occupancy for existing rental units.”
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at email@example.com.