MANCHESTER – The Township Council passed a rent leveling ordinance to help residents of manufactured communities being negatively impacted by high increases from their landlords.
Mayor Robert Arace remarked that as most of those living in these communities are seniors on a fixed income, the increases that they are experiencing have had a big impact on their finances. Several senior township communities saw annual increases of more than 6% in their rents.
The mayor said that the ordinance was drafted to protect those residents from greedy landlords looking to cash in on the current economic environment.
“Hundreds of people probably, along the campaign trail, had come to me with this concern … Four communities in town, Pine Ridge South, Pine Ridge of Crestwood, Ridgewood Manor and Pine Acres Manor have all experienced significant unconscionable increases that have hit the pockets our 55-plus residents,” Arace said.
Nearly 20 people spoke during the council meeting when it was introduced, stating some of their neighbors have had to move out of the communities as a result of the rent increases.
Frank Gaulrapp of Pine Ridge Crestwood was one of those residents thankful to see the rent leveling ordinance. He said his own landlord “keeps raising the rent $20, $30, $40 – the last rent was $50. Now I’m paying $730. When I moved here, I was paying $600 and change.”
“Those of us on social security don’t get paid every week. We only get one check. He doesn’t need to raise our rent, he can give us a break,” Gaulrapp added.
“I’ve never seen a company that advertises amenities and then they just disappear. Not only are they raising the rent it is also the fact that they are allowed to advertise things that they aren’t giving their residents. That is false advertising,” Tern Court resident John Jasonowicz said.
Pine Ridge South resident Phyllis Reim said, “I am very appreciative of Mayor Arace for doing this and the council for listening to us. In January 2017 we were paying $697 a month and then that November we got a letter that it would go to $710 a month. As of January 1, 2023, our monthly rent is now $826 so it went up $129.”
Andrew Kirsteen, a member of the Pine Ridge South Board of Directors, asked about the appeals board that is set up through the ordinance. “You will be inundated as we well know. The way I read the draft only two permanent members of the Board specify which leads three from who knows where?”
Kirsteen wanted to know who was going to sit on the appeals board to ensure that it is a proper balance “so we end up not creating something that will either go too far in one direction as it will hurt the township and stymie development or go too far in the other direction and hurt the residents.”
Mayor Arace explained about the membership of the leveling board: “It does mandate one resident of one of the actual impacted communities and a landlord proxy, the other three primary members are mayoral appointments, however, with the advice and consent of council. We would look to find the best people of the community.
“It would go on a mayoral appointment list that would by permission of the council president be on the agenda and there would be an open hearing as to who the appointment would be and there would be public comment to state your case or objection. That is the current process,” Arace added.
Two attorneys representing manufactured home communities spoke during the ordinance’s final reading. Lori C. Greenberg a real estate attorney from Marlton and Christopher J. Hanlon, of Hanlon, Niemann and Wright, Freehold, expressed their displeasure over the administration not reaching out to the landlord owners in the development of the ordinance.
Hanlon who represents the owners of Pine Ridge South and Ridgewood Manor asked the Council to table the ordinance for further consideration. He suggested litigation would most likely be initiated were the ordinance passed that evening.
“We are going to have these conversations in the context of litigation and respectfully, that really isn’t fair to us,” Hanlon said.
Greenberg added, “I was surprised that the town didn’t reach out to the landlords. Your ordinance includes a 2% cap which is abhorrent. I think we should be involved in this.”
Numerous residents however came to the podium thanking the mayor for presenting the ordinance and applauded loudly when the Council unanimously approved it.