Rent Leveling Taken To Court

Manchester Township Council and professional staff listen to a resident’s question about litigation pertaining to the township’s rent leveling ordinance during a recent Township Council meeting. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  MANCHESTER – The ordinance created to limit rent increases for residents was challenged in court, and residents are worried about the outcome of that lawsuit.

  Last March, the Township Council passed a rent leveling ordinance to help residents of manufactured communities being negatively impacted by high increases from their landlords.

  The ordinance was part of Mayor Robert Arace’s election campaign last year and during the meeting where it was approved, he 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.

  He noted 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 of our 55-plus residents,” Arace said.

  Nearly 20 people spoke when the ordinance 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.”

  Real Estate Attorney Lori C. Greenberg of Lori C. Greenberg & Associations of Marlton who represents Pine Ridge was present at that meeting and told the governing body, “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.”

  She returned to the November 13 meeting to hear what was being said by residents and officials but did not speak during the public comment period. She told The Manchester Times after the meeting, “I can’t comment, I wish I could but I cannot because this is in litigation. Once the litigation is over I can.”

  Christopher J. Hanlon, of Hanlon, Niemann and Wright, Freehold was also present at the earlier session representing the owners of Pine Ridge South and Ridgewood Manor. He suggested litigation would most likely be initiated if the ordinance passed and that is what happened.

  John Mercer of Pine Ridge at Crestwood asked about the tabled ordinance that would amend chapter 326 of the rent leveling ordinance. Council President Roxy Conniff said that was held and would be voted on during the November 27 meeting.

  “That is partially to provide me some time to speak to the leadership of Pine Ridge at Crestwood and Pine Ridge South to speak with residents before it was ultimately voted on. I plan to hear concerns and update the status of where we are. You will be part of the process,” Mayor Arace said.

  Mercer said the current proposal would have the 2% rent hike cap go to 3.5%.

  Mayor Arace clarified, “we did not propose the 3.5. When we passed the initial ordinance, it was 2%. There are parties that challenged the validity of that number.”

  Township Attorney Lauren Staiger interjected, “We are in the middle of litigation right now and we are not going to engage in a full discussion. There are discussions about coming to an agreement as to make it palatable for all.”

  The mayor said he’d be speaking with other senior communities that would be impacted by any change in the rent leveling ordinance as well. “The ordinance was passed and it is active but the 2% is being challenged in (Ocean County Superior) Court.”

  “The original ordinance was appealed in the Superior Court. During this process there have been discussions by all parties and the court has been a part of it and now we are in the process of settling the matter,” Staiger said.

  She said if that is adopted at the next meeting, “then most likely everything will be settled and the court can sign off on that settlement.”