Rent Control Discussion Draws Crowd

Pine Ridge at Crestwood Residents Association President Mary Norris, at left, joins Pine Ridge South Residents Association President Richard Rosin, Manchester Mayor Robert Arace at the podium and seated at right is Township Attorney Lauren Staiger during a gathering of residents at the Whiting Firehouse. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  MANCHESTER – A large turnout came out recently for a Friday night gathering of township residents at the Whiting Firehouse but it wasn’t Bingo that drew them there, it was the subject of rent control and recent rent increases.

  The forum featured residents of Pine Ridge at Crestwood and Pine Ridge South who came out to hear and ask questions to Mayor Robert Arace, who was also joined by his staff and Township Attorney Lauren Staiger. Also present was Maria LaFace, the director of the Ocean County Office of Senior Services.

  Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council approved an ordinance that limited increases to 2% unless there’s just cause. However, owners of Pine Ridge at Crestwood Equity Life Style Properties sent out an increase to their residents before the new ordinance could take effect on March 22.

  Residents wanted to know what their options were to fight that increase. Pine Ridge at Crestwood Residents Association President Mary Norris, and Pine Ridge South Residents Association President Richard Rosin both introduced Mayor Arace to the audience.

  “The reason we are all here is because of the rent levelling ordinance. I want to talk about the details of it. I also want to take the opportunity to listen to you guys. Over the course of the mayoral campaigns, several years, out of the manufactured home communities I’ve heard things that have been deeply concerning,” the mayor said.

  He noted he learned of six and seven percent increases “and the answer was if you don’t like it pick up your house and move” from the owners of the properties that lease the land to the homeowners of the manufactured residences. “That is quite an absurd answer.”

  “Whiting especially but Manchester as a whole 65% of our residents are 55 and over and are retirees. I’ve been telling this story at every HOA (Home Owners Association) because even if they are not impacted by this ordinance directly, it is set to come and our council and administration is unwilling to let anyone push seniors around,” Arace said.

Residents of Pine Ridge at Crestwood and Pine Ridge South listen to discussions about rent control. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  The mayor explained a number of components to the ordinance that was approved. “If your landlord is not paying utilities and the residents are responsible for heating and utilities, it is fixed at two percent or the consumer price index (CPI) – which is an average of the cost of goods (that is a measurement they take of the economy) or whatever is lower.”

  “In a poor economic period of time and with the CPI through the roof at eight percent it would be fixed at two percent. In communities where landlords are providing utilities it is fixed at three percent but the same rule applies if the CPI is lower. What it also does is create a rent leveling board,” the mayor added.

  He explained that board is primarily made up of “residents, peers and by the rules a person has to be from a manufactured home and there are other three at-large appointments that can be made by the mayor and one person has to be a representative from the landlords. It is at the mayor’s discretion as to who is on the board and the lens I am looking through is the people we are looking after – our residents.”

  With an increase over 2 percent, for example, the landlord would have to come before the rent leveling board and justify the increase. They would have to prove that it is costing more for the landlord to manage that property, he said. The board would then vote whether to approve it.

  “It is quite a task to do that and they have to have an actual itemized list of why instead of ‘just because we could.’ There is no more ‘just because we could’ (in an increase beyond two percent). That is how it works and I think it is a good step forward in protecting our residents,” the mayor added.

  Staiger urged attendees with specific legal questions to seek advice from their own legal counsel as the township could not offer any. If someone had a concern about recent increases they received that might be ambiguous as to whether it was done before or after the implementation of the ordinance, she referred them to contact LaFace.

  La Face said “the mayor and council can’t give out legal advice and neither can I but if you contact my office there is a non-profit that we fund, (it) may be able to answer some of the questions about those notices.”

  She urged those in attendance to reach out to her office at 732-929-2091 or to e-mail her at regarding this or other problems they may be facing related to senior issues.