MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Township of Montclair has thrown out more than 600 votes in a quest that landlords have taken up to challenge the implementation of a rent control ordinance, officials announced on Thursday.

Despite an unprecedented, duplicitous and invasive email campaign conducted by a group of Montclair landlords to petition for reversal of the Township’s historic rent control ordinance adopted in April, the landlord group failed to gather enough signatures to win a special election, tenant advocates said.

For the past 20 days, Town Clerk Angelese Bermudez Nieves scrutinized the petition signatures and found only 914 to be acceptable out of 1,528 submitted. A minimum of 1,020 signatures from legal voters of the Township of Montclair is necessary for a successful ballot petition. That number is equal to 15% of the ballots cast in Montclair in the 2019 General Election.

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““The Montclair Property Owners Association conducted a disinformation campaign online and in print since last April, and even went so far as to get the courts to force the township to deliver residents’ personal email addresses and text numbers six weeks ago,” said AhavaFelicidad and Toni Martin of the Tenants Organization of Montclair in a joint statement with the coalition. “They sent out excessive blasts that were reported to the township as harassment by many residents. It is unconscionable that residents have had to be subject to their campaign against rent control.” 

“The landlord effort in Montclair is being orchestrated by a public relations professional who represents real estate companies, and makes his living off efforts to prevent and erase rent control in towns across New Jersey,” the TOOM statement said.

“Perhaps it is not surprising, given the MPOA campaign’s lack of Montclair roots that the MPOA had more than 600 petition signatures rejected due to lack of authenticity,” TOOM stated.

“We note that 200 signatures were rejected because the signers were not registered in New Jersey. Another 139 signers were not residents of Montclair. And the signatures of 168 more voters did not match the signatures on record in the state registration system.

“The Tenants Organization is aware of a history of fraudulent signatures being discovered in other communities where Property Owners Associations directed by Ron Simoncini of Axiom Communications have operated. 

“Local residents are also fully aware of the tricky and duplicitous wording used by teenagers representing MPOA  when circulating petitions in downtown Montclair, and the same type of wording used in the blast of invasive emails. Montclair Town Councilman and former mayor, Bob Russo, has called this the same as consumer fraud. Councilman Russo is a former NJ Consumers League president, and spent 16 years as director of the state’s Lemon Law."

“TOOM and Montclair Citizens for Rent Control are disappointed with the unseemly efforts used in MPOA’s attack on our hard-won rent control ordinance.  It just shows their lack of concern and caring for our community.”

“While the MPOA has 10 days to “cure” their petition the group has shown their true nature. We look forward to the day when tenants and homeowner community gain full rent control implementation.” 

Montclair’s first-ever rent control ordinance was adopted April 7, 2020 after the push by a grassroots group, TOOM, formed in April 2019 and more than three decades of efforts by affordable housing advocates all over the township of Montclair. 

Recently, a coalition of supporters includes property owners, clergy, community groups, senior advocates, the Montclair NAACP, and others was created as the Montclair Citizens for Rent Control. It maintains a website with information about rent control at montclairrentcontrol.org.