Officials Cracking Down On Rental Properties

HOWELL – A new ordinance introduced by the governing body suggests Howell means business when it comes to rental properties in the community.

  Plans were already in progress to update existing regulations before a fire broke out and destroyed a large house on Lanes Pond Road last month. The damage resulted in a determination that the building was an unsafe structure, and not safe for habitation.

  Matthew Howard, the township’s land use director said the property owners have been issued six summonses for alleged ordinance violations. The local municipal court will hear the complaints in the near future. Additionally, any alleged uniform construction code violations can be appealed to the Construction Board of Appeals.

  When news of the fire first came to light, The Lakewood Scoop reported that the blaze as ripping through a Jewish community center. The 7,478 square feet single-family five bedroom home was purchased last April for $1.375 million by Avraham Lebovitz. Local authorities have not confirmed the house was used for anything other than a residential dwelling.

  After the fire, Howard said township officials began receiving increased complaints about gatherings of groups of people in private homes.

  “The gathering of people is not illegal,” stressed Howard. “It does not constitute changes of use on a property. It does not constitute issues that code enforcement or the police department or anyone else has the inherent right to go in and break up.”

  Howard said the right to gather is inherent to the Constitution, and it didn’t matter if groups get together regularly for religious purposes. The township does not discriminate for any gatherings including Thanksgiving, Christmas or other assorted times people get together.

  On a separate issue, Howard acknowledged that the township thought it prudent to update its rental code and occupancy limits. Some residents have complained about single-family homes rented to multiple families.

  The new ordinance specifically documents and codifies how Howell authorities calculate occupancy and what constitutes over-occupancy based on the state housing laws.

  “We can arbitrarily set an occupancy of a maximum of five people per house or whatever we want to do,” said Howard. “The state housing code sets that so we put our ordinance in place.”

  Rental certificates posted inside leased homes will be required to state the occupancy load of the dwelling. Those who do not comply with the rental code will be subject to court summonses and fines. Anyone leasing out unregistered residential property could be faced with a minimum of $2,000 in violation costs.

  Prohibitions include the issuance of leases or subleases for rental units to a group of tenants in excess of the total number of sleeping accommodations specified in the ordinance. Bedrooms occupied by one occupant must contain at least 70 square feet of floor area. Those occupied by more than one person must contain at least 50 square feet for each occupant.

  Legally existing mobile homes are exempt from these occupancy standards, but homes or trailers cannot be inhabited by more occupants than outlined by the home’s manufacturer.

  Howard implored residents to continue to report non-compliance issues with the rental code. Officials plan to investigate claims and handle complaints as they come in.

  “What we will not do is accept complaints that are targeted at a person or group of people,” Howard emphasized. “Race, ethnicity, religion, any affiliation or any protected class.”

  “If there are signs that it’s targeted, or in some vein trying to focus on a group of people,” continued Howard. “We won’t tolerate it.”

  Councilman Fred Gasior echoed Howard’s sentiments and welcomed those new to Howell who had decided to buy and rent homes. He also implored landlords to take care of their rental properties.

  “We welcome you as a taxpayer,” said Gasior. “We welcome you as someone who will be affording a service to people who many need a place to live.”

  Multiple individuals shared their concerns regarding the influx of renters within the community. Among them, was Sandra Viera, who moved to Howell approximately seven years ago.

  Viera said that her family chose to make Howell her hometown because of its neighborhood feel and her impression that people care about one another.

  “My concern is also with the renters,” Viera said. “I did not move to Howell to be surrounded by that.”

  Viera did not expand what she meant by “that,” saying she was sure officials understood what she meant. She then said her family has been approached several times about buying their home – to the point they felt harassed.

  Township Manager Joe Clark instructed Viera to contact Howard regarding the unwanted solicitations for house sales. Howell has an ordinance that specifically addresses the actions.

  Nelson Jusino, who moved from Jersey City to Howell in 1991 shared his concerns about what he saw as Howell’s changing landscape right on his own block.

  “If I wanted to move into a city with boarding houses and apartments, I would have,” said Jusino. “A cancer is growing in Howell and in 3-5 years from now, you’d better hire cops and paid firefighters.”