Eatontown amends rent control rules in party-line vote

Staff Writer

Eatontown Borough Council members have voted to amend the borough’s rent control ordinance, an action that could potentially impact more than half of the borough’s residents.

The amendment, which passed by a vote of 4-2 split along party lines, will decontrol the rent of an apartment unit after a current tenant vacates it.

“What the amendment does is that if a unit becomes vacant during or at the end of a lease term, the unit is permanently decontrolled,” Borough Attorney Andrew Bayer said at the June 24 meeting. “The rent control mechanisms would not kick in after the landlord establishes a new rent.”

Borough officials approved rent control for Eatontown in 2006 and had capped the yearly rent increases at 3 percent of the average Consumer Price Index for the New York-East New Jersey metropolitan region.

“For any current resident who has a lease, they will be protected by rent control and will be unaffected … it is only when a unit becomes vacant,” Bayer said.

Currently, tenants comprise 55 percent of Eatontown’s population, with 2,386 units in 17 apartment complexes subject to the rent control ordinance, according to Borough Administrator George Jackson.

Republican council members Mark Regan, Kevin Gonzalez, Richard Robinson and Donna Mazzella-Diedrichsen voted in favor of the amendment, while Democrats Anthony Talerico Jr. and Janice Kroposky voted against amending the ordinance.

Mayor Dennis Connelly, who first proposed the amendment in March, was absent from the meeting.

Council chambers were full for the vote, which drew a murmur of disapproval from many attendees.

“From an economic standpoint, eliminating the borough’s rent-control ordinance is a clear win,” Connelly said in March. “It will result in improved properties and enhance tax revenues for the borough.” A public hearing was held before the council vote, during which those supporting the amendment and opposing it spoke out.

“We’re renters, and we should be protected just like homeowners,” Marian Brennan, a tenant in the Wedgewood Garden Apartments, said. “You’re passing something that is only going to make these [landlords] richer and put people like us in the hole.”

Out of the approximately 50 municipalities within Monmouth County, only two — Red Bank and Neptune — currently have rent control ordinances in place, and Brennan questioned council members as to why officials wanted to amend the ordinance.

“Red Bank doesn’t bother, Neptune doesn’t bother, so why does Eatontown have to do it?” she asked. “I just don’t think it is necessary right now to change what we have, and we need to leave it the way it is.”

Resident John Bennett said he felt that council members don’t have a solid plan as to what will happen through phasing out rent control in the borough.

“It’s very open-ended, and it just doesn’t seem like there is a solid plan to eliminate rent control,” he said. “If we are just letting everybody raise the rent, we are kind of in a way pushing diversity out of our borough … because certain people might not be able to make the extra income that will be needed each month.

“What’s the assurance from the borough that they’re actually going to beautify the properties and are not just pushing out the lower income [residents]?” he asked council members.

Homeowner Margaret Lucas told council members while she understands where the renters are coming from, she also sees where the landlords are coming from.

“There are two sides to every coin, and I understand that there are concerns in these rent-control apartments,” she said. “But I also feel that, yes, maybe there are some landlords who are greedy and pocketing most of the money, but I feel that there are some landlords that are honest and want to fix up the apartments but they can’t.”

Mazzella-Diedrichsen, who chairs the borough’s Tenants Rights Committee, said she felt repealing the rent control ordinance would benefit everyone involved.

“If you have rent control today, you will have rent control tomorrow,” she said. “This is part of the program of cleaning up Eatontown … and I think it is a win-win because I don’t think anyone is being harmed.”

At the council’s May 13 meeting, Talerico proposed funding a study that would focus on an apartment complex representative of the apartment stock in the borough and how much rents would rise if rent control were to be repealed.

While that proposal was unanimously voted down, Talerico said he still feels modifying the rent control ordinance to make it easier for landlords to pass through the cost of capital improvements would be a better course of action for the borough.

“My proposal was making capital improvement easier for the landlords to pass through so that everyone benefits,” he said. “I think it is the lesser of all evils and would accomplish everyone’s goals.”

When originally making the proposal, Talerico said the borough would rely on trickle-down economics if the rent control ordinance were simply repealed.

Talerico said at the June 24 meeting that while he felt that repealing rent control doesn’t guarantee that improvements would be made, modifying the ordinance would help everyone — building owners, tenants and the borough.

“I’m concerned because this is not the way to increase capital improvements, by raising rents,” he said. “I think the way to increase capital improvements is by making the ordinance easier for them to pass through.”