MONTCLAIR, NJ - During the Council Conference meeting held on April 7, the council had passed an ordinance allowing for rent control in the Township of Montclair.
In a lengthy heated debate between Montclair property owners and renters, the council passed the ordinance 5-0, with Mayor Jackson and Deputy Mayor Rich McMahon abstaining.
Mayor Robert Jackson, Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, were in the chambers for the meeting, while the other councilors attended by phone.
Several residents called in during public comment to express their opinions on both sides of the debate, with many demanding that the hearing be put off due to the poor telephone connections and the pandemic. The council pressed on despite objections.
President of the Montclair Property Owner's Association, Ronald Simoncini issued a press release following the vote, blasting the council. He concluded by vowing that this fight is not over.
His statement is below:
STATEMENT OF RON SIMONCINI
It is with great disappointment that announce we have convened a Committee of Petitioners to reverse the adoption of rent control in Montclair. Due to restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, collection of petition signatures is obviated at this time and we will seek judicial relief from the requirement, either allowing us to collect signatures electronically or after the emergency orders expire.
At last night’s Council Meeting, despite the overwhelming majority of the public opposing rent control, the Council adopted the Ordinance. In the public portion of the meeting, nearly everyone mentioned that adopting the ordinance during the COVID-19 pandemic had compromised the ability of the public to participate in the debate and many observed that the economic upheaval precluded a rational assessment of a long-term strategy around rent control.
Many callers expressed that they had no idea that rent control was being considered, to which Councilmembers later replied that they had been hearing from tenants at council meetings. We noted, and we repeat here, that this does not amount to a balanced examination of the issue. The duty of elected officials is not just to hear who is in front of them, but to assess the equities of the issue. There seems to be a sense of the Council of “too bad you got here so late, we already decided what’s fair to you despite that we have no idea of what you think is fair to you.”
A lack of presence and objections from not just landlords but homeowners at council meetings and tenant gatherings does not signal acquiescence to the will of the handful of tenant advocates who back-roomed this Ordinance with Mayoral candidates in an election year. It amounts to defective government at a time that calls for insightful leadership. No tenant in Montclair faced any immediate threat as a result of a postponement of the rent control debate – and if the Council was concerned about that, it could have enacted a freeze on rents until the State of Emergency expires. Instead, it passed a thoughtless, unenforceable and divisive Ordinance that pits one set of residents against another.
This is far from over.