NEWTON, NJ – Town council allowed a public hearing on a landlord responsibility ordinance to go on for more than two and a half hours before a close vote put the ordinance on the books on Wednesday, May 29.
Mayor Sandra Lee Diglio and council members Kristen Becker and Daniel Flynn voted for the ordinance. Deputy Mayor Joseph Ricciardo and Councilman Kevin Elvidge voted against it. Ricciardo said he could not vote for it in its present form.
Special Officer Donald Donofrio, who now also owns property in town, said after listening to the discussion during the meeting said, "It sounds like the ordinance could use some tweaking. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t get adopted tonight.”
Most of those who spoke were landlords in the category addressed by the ordinance.
“I believe this is actually directed at rooming houses,” Herb Frazier said.
The ordinance indicates the owners of building with between one and four apartments are actually eligible for certain controls from the town. State law doesn’t allow municipalities to impose these controls on larger rental units or rooming houses, although Senator Steve Oroho introduced a bill in the legislature to allow for more local control of rooming houses.
“What about the Spring House?” Frazier said, referring to a municipally-owned building for low-income residents.
“It’s a hotel and it’s governed by the state,” Becker told him.
The controversial part of the ordinance was seen by many landlords as holding them responsible for actions by tenants or guests of tenants that they have no control over.
The ordinance calls on landlords to post a bond of between $500 and $5,000 once a tenant has been convicted of a second crime.
Some landlords said they screened their tenants carefully and have never had problems.
John Ragsdale said he researches everyone who applies for one of his apartments, “It’s not hard and it’s not expensive,” he said, adding, “and it’s all provided for under the law."
Landlord John Nuss said the state Attorney General has regulations on landlords turning down prospective tenants. “It’s discrimination,” he said of turning down a prospective tenants because of a criminal record.
David D’Auria said he did background checks on all his tenants, but he has had tenants stay for as long as eight years. “The background checks were eight years ago. I don’t know what the tenants are doing tonight because I’m here, not checking on them”
Many landlords said they do check on their tenants, but some do not live nearby.
Roman Osadca has a Newton mailing address, but lives in Frelinghuysen Township, Warren County. He said “once in a while something happens you don’t expect.” He cited a domestic dispute as a problem a landlord can’t foresee.
Council assured the landlords they could have a hearing on their fines should the fines be imposed.
Another assurance was that the crime would have to be committed by the tenant. Landlords disputed that saying on occasion a tenant will move in a significant other without telling the landlord.
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