ROSELAND, NJ — After months of discussion over a proposed ordinance stabilizing rent for senior citizens in Roseland, the borough council voted 3-1 in favor of the ordinance with two abstentions despite the council’s intention to revisit the ordinance at a later date.
The adopted rent-stabilization clause is an amendment to the borough’s “building and housing” ordinance and is subject to be changed or updated whenever the governing body sees fit. The main change that the current council members would like to see made in the near future is to include disabled residents and potentially others in the ordinance.
The adopted ordinance, which only applies to those with existing leases, stabilizes annual rent increases to no more than 3.5 percent for all apartments with rent of more than $1,500 per month and residents aged 65 years or older.
Councilman Thomas Tsilionis, who ultimately voted against the ordinance as currently written, set this proposal in motion due to complaints from senior residents of the Everly Roseland apartment complex regarding steep increases in rent under the new ownership. According to Tsilionis, who has been in constant communication with the owners to come up with a solution, some residents have seen rent increases as high as 10 and 11 percent since Novel Property Ventures purchased the complex formerly known as Nob Hill.
“I think it’s really important here not to limit it only to seniors…but when I was looking at the senior population at the Everly and the increases that they were getting, this looked like it was the only resource available to us to be able to get some kind of relief to them,” said Tsilionis. “We have gone back and forth with the owners multiple times […] trying to see if the owner could come up with some kind of a solution to be able to help get this done, and he has come forth in pretty much giving us everything that this ordinance today is about to achieve.”
Satisfied with a verbal agreement the borough has achieved with Everly owner Andrew Miller to abide by the 3.5 rent increase, Tsilionis voted against the ordinance in order to allow incoming mayor James Spango and newly elected council members Roger Freda and Eileen Fishman to pick up where the current governing body has left off.
“In good faith, [Miller] has come forth and tried to find a solution to help our senior population be able to stay in Roseland and in their units,” said Tsilionis. “There are a lot of people [on this council] that have a lot of different ideas...There are others on this [council] that might support this, but really think it’s unjust because they want to find a solution for everybody, and not just people that are over 65."
Although his term ends on Dec. 31, Tsilionis said he hopes the new governing body will amend the ordinance to include disabled residents, which also caused Councilman David Jacobs’ hesitation in approving the ordinance as currently written. Jacobs and Council President Michelle Tolli were both assured that voting yes now would still allow the council to reopen the discussion in the New Year.
“I’m actually against this because there’s nothing provided for the handicapped, which I stand very strong on,” said Jacobs. “I almost want to see it tabled…[but] I’m going to say yes.”
Councilman Christopher Bardi also hoped to table the ordinance, but saw the benefit of putting the clause into effect as soon as possible for seniors. He voted in favor of it only after being assured that the council would receive documentation of all renewed leases in order to ensure the owners are being compliant.
Council members Peter Smith and Richard Leonard both recused themselves from this vote. In the event of a tie, Mayor John Duthie said he would have voted against this ordinance, stating that he would prefer to trust the new administration to listen to the public as well as the current governing body has and move forward as they see fit.
“I just thought that this was a hot-button topic during campaign season for office here in Roseland, and to me it seems like this is kind of late in this administration’s game to be throwing something together at the last minute when promises have been made by newly elected officials,” said Duthie. “Elections do have consequences, and I think that for us to try to put together this ordinance and adopt it tonight, it’s probably premature when—from what I saw during campaign season—this law could change on Jan. 2.”
Tsilionis agreed, stating that he has been pleasantly surprised by the progress the borough has made with the owners of the Everly complex. He voted against the ordinance with confidence that Miller would have kept his word until the new administration comes up with a more comprehensive solution.
“This ordinance here is something that I put forth because I was trying to find a solution for the seniors,” said Tsilionis. “There has been opposition to this, and there’s new administration coming in. I think if they need to address this, then I think they should start fresh…I don’t think they want to adopt my ideas; maybe they have their own. At this point in time, I think we should take a break and let the next administration take over."
Prior to the election, Spango stated that his priority is to be inclusive of all residents in the rent-stabilization discussion, adding that all residents “should have assurance that their rent will not increase at an exorbitant rate, but a reasonable one, and that no excessive extra charges are passed on to them such as garbage, garages or water fees.”
“Senior citizens who are on a fixed income shouldn’t have to worry about excessive rent increases exceeding their budget,” Spango told TAPinto West Essex at the time. “This is why we are proposing a rent stabilization ordinance that includes a special rent stabilization rate for our seniors. Our rent stabilization ordinance will exempt multi-family housing units of five units or less. Our job, if fortunate enough to be elected, is to protect our residents and ensure that they have the choice to reside in Roseland for as long as they wish without the fear of being forced out due to exorbitant or unreasonable rent increases.”
At the time that this ordinance was adopted, some Everly residents expressed their concerns to the council.
Gerald Goldberg was among the Everly residents who felt that a 3.5 percent increase year over year was still a little high, particularly because “the maintenance has gotten to be so poor,” he said of the Everly complex.
“I’ve had a problem with a light on the walkway for a year,” he said. “It’s not fixed yet; there’s always some other excuse, and if Segal and Segal (the former owners) were here, this would have been done in a week…I think this ordinance is very important, but I think the rate of increase is a little bit too generous as far as Everly is concerned.”
Another Everly resident announced that her ex-husband, also a resident of the complex, recently had a stroke after receiving his renewal with a nearly 10-percent increase.
“That’s how upset he is about this,” she said. “He’s looking for other places to live—this is how the seniors are being affected.”
Some residents were also concerned that they could not trust Miller at his word alone, and were especially concerned about whether any future owners would honor this agreement if the council did not move forward with the ordinance.
According to Miller, the owners have already been in compliance with the ordinance since October, and assured the public that they would continue with these efforts.
In terms of maintenance of the property, Miller said the new owners have maintained the same employees, such as landscapers and other service providers, as the previous owners with the exception of one who resigned. He noted that the only change has been the frequency of garbage pickup from three days a week to two days a week, but that he intends to return to the three-day-a-week pickup schedule.
With the ordinance now in effect, Tsilionis suggested that Bardi, as one of the council members who will remain on the governing body after the New Year, take over as the point of contact for Miller in order to ensure that the complex and the borough continue to work closely together on these issues.
Click HERE to learn more about the recent controversy over this issue.