JACKSON – The township rent leveling board flexed its muscles in 2016, levying fines against violators, but also hoping for a stronger local ordinance for the future, members said.
Jackson’s rent leveling board levied $6,500 in fines against violators in 2016, using the existing code’s powers. Though board members said they want to work with the Township Council to create a stronger ordinance, they are pleased with the board’s work last year.
“One of the fines was levied due to years of offenses and another was two offenses but served as a reminder that breaches of the ordinance will not be tolerated,” Rent leveling board chairman Robert Skinner told The Jackson Times. “I’m proud of our board mainly because they take this seriously and we have made great strides.”
The largest fine was imposed on Prospect Pointe, for $6,000, due to an “excessive delay in providing all information necessary to properly conduct a hearing and due to the excessive work required of the board’s accountant,” according to minutes of the board’s January 28, 2016 meeting. The hearing was for matters since 2014.
The fine money was put into the township’s general fund, and established a precedent for future violations. Attorney Brian Rumpf said if violators fail to pay, resolutions made in favor of a landlord could be invalidated due to noncompliance.
“The board looked at the ordinance more carefully, and things were brought to light. The apartment complex was not in compliance for some time,” board member Diane DiCapua said. She and her husband John manage Jackson Acres. “The board and accountant had to go over and above to work on that application.”
The board was established in 2001 with the abolishment of two other boards, the apartment rent leveling board and mobile home park rent leveling board. The nine-member, three-alternate board approves rent increases as outlined in chapter 334 of the municipal code. Violations can be fined up to $2,000 or 90 days’ imprisonment per offense.
The current code still refers to the “township committee,” although the township form of government changed in 2006. Skinner, who was again appointed board chairman, and other members want to work with council to craft a more powerful ordinance to expand the board’s powers.
“I want the ability to investigate properties,” board member Ed Bannon said. “Right now, everything is left to code enforcement. When it gets done, if it gets done, we are often not even told. We should be able to go and directly assess fines because we saw it ourselves.”
The board attorney has sent out letters to properties requesting that they report if they fall under the rent control guidelines, as not all rentals do.
Skinner has his list of things he’d like to accomplish this year. He said that list includes: “Discussions with liaisons on council to explore our duties and to improve the service of our board to the community.”
Also: to work more closely with administration and other departments; to identify other entities which may fall under the rent control guidelines; to improve the entire rent control application process, including having newly created application forms placed online and to encourage more tenants to apply with no fears.
Skinner praised elected officials and the board’s work. “Despite the incredible bashing both mayor and council have received – the Rent Leveling Board (as well as other boards who volunteer at the pleasure of Mayor Michael Reina), has been essential to being a voice of the people, with many backgrounds being represented,” Skinner said. “Real estate professionals, a property manager, homeowner association members, banking professionals, landlords, homeowners and tenants have all given their time to the improvement of our community by serving our boards. My board has been steadfast in making sure we always remain neutral, fair and honest in our opinions.”
Gary Miller, board member, said the Jackson rent leveling board is the most “progressive in the state,” and very fair to both landlords and tenant.
The rent leveling board meets at 7:30 p.m. in the main meeting room at the municipal building, 95 W. Veterans Highway. The board will meet January 26, February 9 and 23, March 9 and 23, April 13 and 27, May 11 and 25, June 8 and 22, July 13 and 27, August 10 and 24, September 14 and 28, October 12 and 26, November 9, December 14 and 28, and January 11, 2018 for reorganization.