Senator Challenged On Senior Housing Bill

Attorney Ron Catelli of the Catelli Law Firm of Red Bank speaks at the latest Manchester Coordinating Council meeting about the need to oppose pending bills in the legislature. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

MANCHESTER – Members of the Manchester Coordinating Council (MCC) and a Red Bank attorney have taken issue with comments made by a lawmaker concerning legislation he sponsored that would change the way senior communities are governed.

  During last month’s meeting of the MCC held at the Crestwood Village V Clubhouse, attorney Ron Catelli of The Catelli Law Firm of Red Bank, shared his concerns with 60 attendees about New Jersey legislators who are actively working to pass laws, such as Assembly Bill A4377 and Assembly Bill A4106-Senate Bill S2537, which gives more authority to the State Department of Community Affairs and would put new regulations on senior communities.

  The MCC represents the 26 senior developments in Manchester. MCC legislative liaison Judy Noonan, a former Berkeley Township councilwoman, brought the matter to the attention of the MCC. Catelli was asked to explain the legislation and actions the MCC could take to oppose the bills.

  Senate Bill 2537 is sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton (District 7 Burlington), and the companion Assembly Bill A4106, was proposed by Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (District 19 Middlesex) and Assemblywoman Angelica M. Jiminez (District 32 Bergen and Hudson).

  This bill would allow corporations, businesses and under-aged people to buy units or homes in such communities to rent them out.

  Catelli warned the MCC during the meeting to watch for S-2537’s potential implications on age-restricted common interest communities. “To the anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, provided that certain quotas are maintained of age-appropriate persons occupying the premises. This means that once the percentage of seniors in a senior development fall below a certain percentage, they lose some of their protections.”

  Singleton responded to questions from The Manchester Times concerning what prompted the drafting of his bill stating “the purpose of the bill is to prevent age-restricted community associations from restricting who owners can and cannot sell their homes to. It does not allow anyone under the age of 55 to live in those communities.”

  The senator said the bill was needed because, “currently, several age restricted communities in New Jersey and at least one municipality have either language in their bylaws or municipal ordinance prohibiting those under the age of 55 from purchasing property in a 55+ community, which is in violation of federal and state law.”

  Singleton’s explanation didn’t sit well with Catelli, Noonan and other MCC members who are challenging the facts of his response accusing him of not having a clear understanding of related state law.

  Noonan said, “Senator Singleton’s Senate Bill S2537, will invalidate the decades old governing documents of many age-restricted communities which require owners to be 55 years of age or older. It provides that, regardless of age, anyone can be the owner of a dwelling unit in an age-restricted community.

  “If passed this bill will convert, over a very short period of time, owner-occupied, age-restricted communities presently governed by owners who want to enjoy a senior lifestyle, into low-income rental communities, governed by absentee landlords, focused upon maximizing profits and minimizing, if not eliminating, any accommodations for a senior lifestyle,” she added.

  Catelli spoke during the MCC meeting in September about the portion of the bill that concerned board position eligibility. “The only requirement the DCA (Department of Community Affairs) has in a common interest community (such as a senior community) is that you must be a member in good standing and current with your monthly maintenance fee. If you read that in conjunction with this new bill that they are proposing, you can’t restrict to 55 and older. Ownership can be anyone above the age of 18. The bill does not address occupancy. Occupancy can still be 100% if you want to be over 55 if that is what you so choose.

  “This bill is only addressing ownership of those units. If you read the Radburn bill in conjunction with this you can have 25-year-olds, 30-year-olds or 40-year-olds running for board positions in senior communities,” Catelli said.

  “From a professional standpoint I am outraged and vehemently opposed to this. I’ve spoken to some legislators in Monmouth and will be speaking to some of your legislators here in Ocean County and we’ll be making phone calls on this as to where these bills stand. Right now, they are flying under the radar,” he said.

  He drafted a template for associations to write their own letters to protest the bill.

  Noonan said that in defending his bill against concerns over non-senior and/or absentee owners governing senior communities, “Senator Singleton misrepresented the truth and stated that: ‘Under existing laws, a [community association] can regulate who may serve on their Board. Nothing in S-2537 would change that.’

  “He obviously knows that, in fact, his statement is false since the current law, N.J.S.A. 45:22A-45.2 c. (4), expressly prohibits community associations from excluding any owner in good standing from serving on their Board and expressly provides that: ‘an association . . . shall not prohibit an association member in good standing from nominating himself or herself . . . as a candidate for any membership position on the executive board,’” she added.

  Noonan said, “S-2537 is a Trojan horse about to be foisted upon New Jersey age-restricted communities who are being lied to about its effects.  Shame on Senator Singleton.”

  During a Township Council meeting last month, Noonan called for the Council to support the MCC’s efforts to oppose Singleton’s bill and the other related pending bills through a resolution. The MCC has circulated a petition opposing the bills.

  “I can’t see one upside to it,” Catelli said regarding the proposed bills. “Unless you actually raise your voice and speak up and draw attention to what this is trying to do, it will just go through. Whatever the motivation is you can only speculate how this came to even come up.”

  Catelli said the other pending bills would give the DCA “more statutory authority than anyone could possibly imagine.”

  Mayor Robert Hudak wrote a letter to New Jersey Senate President Nicolas Scutari with concerns about pending bills in the State Legislature expressing they would “adversely impact age restricted communities across the state.”

  In his letter the mayor told Scutari regarding S-2537/A-4106, “if approved, the bill would enable non-seniors to purchase and own properties in age restricted communities.”

  Manchester has more than 20,000 senior residents, the majority of which reside in the 26 age-restricted developments.

  “This bill is predatory in nature in that it could lead to real estate professionals and wealthy investors purchasing a significant stake in the communities, changing their community dynamic, and allowing them to rent or profit from flipping houses within the community,” the mayor stated in his letter.

  Realtors are fighting Berkeley Township on this issue. That township’s governing body affirmed their support of the senior community and voted to pass an ordinance in March that would keep 55 and older communities for seniors only.

  Noonan said at the time that this is something senior communities have had to deal with for years, and that Berkeley’s ordinance was “long overdue. We chose to live like this.”

  While some say that the selling is to family members of senior citizens, Noonan said that they are actually selling to LLCs instead.

  Realtors were met with boos and jeers from the audience during that meeting where Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato stated, “maybe the state and the federal laws are wrong. We will go to the United States Supreme Court to defend our ordinance.”