NEW BRUNSWICK – Julia Cruz has heard the stories for years.
Tenants in apartments in the city pay rent in cash, but do not get a receipt. Then a landlord claims the rent was not paid, or worse, a new landlord takes over the apartment and suddenly hikes the rent above city limits because there is no record of previous monthly charge.
“A lot of people don’t have receipts. So many people are afraid. We are so afraid of raising a complaint because if (landlords) kick us out, where are we going to go,” Cruz said. She spoke in Spanish with a friend interpreting for her as she addressed the city council at the meeting Tuesday.
Cruz presented council members with a petition bearing 175 signatures from people in the city’s Unity Square Community requesting that the city require landlords to give receipts.
City Council President Glenn Fleming told Cruz that an ordinance has been proposed requiring the written receipts.
The ordinance says any landlord who receives rent in cash or through a money order shall provide a receipt immediately if the rent is collected in person or within three days of receiving rent if it is not in person.
That proposal is scheduled for a final reading and a council vote on April 4. It would have been voted on earlier this month, but snow forced the cancellation of a council meeting and the proposal had to be re-advertised for a public hearing.
Cruz and another resident, Ricarda Garcia, told stories of residents who faced unfair rent hikes and possible eviction.
Under existing city regulations, rents can be raised a maximum of 2.5 percent annually.
Garcia and Cruz told of instances when a house is sold to a new landlord without the tenants being told, and the new owner hikes the rent. With receipts showing the previous amount of the rent, new owners can raise the cost above what the city allows.
Garcia, who resided in the city for 17 years and who also spoke through the interpreter, told of one tenant who was suddenly confronted by a new landlord accusing him of not paying rent. The tenant said he had paid the rent, but he had no receipts. The new landlord went to court to evict the man, but that action was stopped when the tenant found older rent receipts, Garcia said.