Rent Control, a Complicated Matter, 4 Times Rejected In Montclair, Makes An Opportunistic Appearance During COVID Crisis

Montclair Real Estate is a Hot-Button Issue

The easiest way to put it is that there is a perfect storm bringing Montclair rent control, and the results will be devastating to property owners.

A combination of a behind-the-scenes movement that exploited what truly was unconscionable rent increase, plus a mayoral election where progressive candidates are currying 4th ward without a balance in the dialogue representing Montclair’s homeowner districts, and the cover of COVID-19 which is preventing the sort of public engagement that an issue like this would normally bring is like a field day for tenant advocates who were turned back in Montclair 4 previous times.

The problem for Montclarions is that this actually matters greatly for homeowners in Montclair and it is mostly being done for the benefit of new residents to Montclair. Of the nearly 800 units represented in the Montclair Property Association, most property owners’ rental increases for existing tenants are below what will be allowed here. But on vacancy – when many owners gut renovates apartments and rents them at market rates – rental increases will be restricted to 10%. That will result in less valuable apartments whose assessments will be lower, which will increase the taxes for homeowners. But moreover, it will discourage the excellent maintenance we see in most Montclair apartment buildings now, and it will cost the jobs of the many local contractors who perform this work. Denying the market of the updated apartments it demands and instead provides unrenovated units that by definition will have conditions issues whose impacts will echo through Montclair’s administration is on no one’s interest.

Despite claims of politicians who invited tenants to meetings about enacting rent control – which is like inviting foxes to management meetings about hen houses – clearly there were no homeowners or apartment owners at the table to react to this ordinance, which even if needed, is not enforceable or in scale with Montclair as a marketplace. The prime example is that all of the surrounding towns have vacancy decontrol which assures that any tax impacts or threats to maintenance are moderated

With both a rent freeze AND a moratorium on evictions, there is no rush to get this thru during the COVID-19 crisis except there is an election on May 12th. But the irony is that Montclairions have no choice except to vote for a candidate who likes rent control – so what is the rush to vote this in before either of them can be elected? They can always champion this as Mayor. Maybe they realize that if they do their first political crisis is already baked in: defending a Referendum.

The truth is, this is a political and ideological moment that Montclair can ill-afford. The truth is, unconscionable rent increases can be addressed in court and the very few owners who are outliers can face the consequence there. The truth is, there is no reason to punish all homeowners and the balance of apartment owners over isolated cases.

But the sad truth is, Montclair may not have anyone on its Council who is courageous enough to stand up Tuesday and say “we don’t need to do this now. Let’s not. Let’s hold off and have a dialogue about this at the appropriate time after the COVID-19 crisis is resolved? “

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