BRICK – An ordinance that would have required landlords to do criminal background checks on new rental tenants was tabled during the June 12 council meeting after a number of audience members expressed their opposition and concerns.
Under the amended Housing Standards ordinance, landlords would have to prove that they conducted background checks of all adult members of the household for criminal convictions and disputes in landlord-tenant court over the past three years.
The township would not receive copies of the background checks, just verification that they had been conducted, explained Councilman Paul Mummolo, who said he is also a landlord. Even if the tenant has a record, the landlord would still be able to rent to someone with a criminal record.
If the landlord does not provide proof of the background check they would be blocked from getting a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) for a year.
“We want the landlord to do due diligence…and to know who they’re renting to,” Mummolo said.
Two members of NAACP – Mike McNeil, who chairs the organization’s Housing Committee, and Fred Rush, who is President of NAACP Ocean County chapter – said that the ordinance could lead to discrimination.
“I have some concerns, not against what you want to do, I just want make sure that you understand what you’re doing,” McNeil said. “What I’m asking you to do, if it’s possible…is meet with some of us, because we have some questions.”
McNeil said he’d first heard about the second reading of the ordinance that morning at 6 a.m. and “my phone hasn’t stopped ringing since then, calls from throughout the entire state.”
“We have no reason not to support what you want to do, but I want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said.
“I don’t want to see you get tangled up in a mess of things, so I ask that you take a step back today,” McNeil said.
Rush said he is afraid that the enforcement part of the ordinance could become discriminatory.
“In America, it’s the Haves and the Have Nots; the people who are the most disenfranchised are going to be affected the most…and if they have a criminal record they’re the ones that didn’t have the funds to pay a lawyer,” he said.
“I know you want to keep this an all-American city, but sometimes I wonder what that means. To keep out less desirables? Whatever that means,” Rush said. “That could be put in the context with a whole lot of things.”
Brick resident Christopher Alino, a former real estate broker and landlord of 40 years, said that the ordinance “puts a lot on the landlord. We’re already over-regulated. No landlord wants a bad tenant because then you’re stuck with them,” he said during public comment.
“Everybody wants the same thing. You don’t need to put in all these ordinances against landlords. We all want the best tenants possible,” Alino said.
Jackson resident and Brick landlord, attorney Peter Loffredo, asked why the town is “imposing something because they don’t think we can do it ourselves…why do I have to do it and give you a letter?”
He said if he knowingly rents to someone with a criminal record and “something happens, will I get my CO revoked? It’s a possibility. What really is the purpose?”
Township attorney Scott W. Kenneally said the ordinance would apply when there is a change of occupancy so the landlord “is apprised of who they’re renting to.” The ordinance does not apply to seasonal rentals.
“The township does not get the results of the background check, and the township does not require or direct the landlord to rent or not rent to someone,” Kenneally said.
Jim Fozman, who was the only council member who said he was not in support the ordinance, said the township could become liable for discrimination lawsuits.
“I’ve got a renter next door who’s a sex offender. I can’t stop him. It’s not gonna make a difference,” he said.
“That’s why we should not pass this,” Fozman said. “We should not be responsible.”
After the meeting, Mayor John G. Ducey said that the township had a number of landlords in the past who said they wish they had done background checks, so the ordinance would make it a requirement.
“The situation is, a bad tenant causes problems, so if the landlord rents [to a tenant with a criminal background] the landlord would be able to say ‘my bad.’ The township gets all kinds of complaints about tenant trouble and the landlord says ‘If only I had known,’ which is an easy excuse,” Kenneally added.
Ducey said the landlords who spoke at the council meeting were the responsible landlords. “The bad landlords don’t do it,” he said.
The governing body voted unanimously to table the ordinance until it could be researched further.
The next council meeting will be on Tuesday, June 26 at 7 p.m.