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Turner-Sacco ‘Animal House’ Legislation Receives Final Legislative Approval

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Shirley K. Turner and Nicholas J. Sacco which would extend New Jersey’s “Animal House” law to allow municipalities to request that landlords post a bond in order to cover expenses related to the bad behavior of their tenants was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 37-1, receiving final legislative approval.

“On college campuses in the Garden State and across the nation, so many students are hitting the books and preparing for their future,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “However, even on the best-behaved campuses, there are sometimes individual students who think having a good time is more important than excelling in academics. Many of these students become nuisance renters in communities around their college, and municipal officials need tools to help mitigate their negative impact on the neighborhood.”

“A college ID or renter’s security deposit is not a license to destroy community property and disrupt the peace and quiet in your host municipality,” said Senator Sacco, D-Hudson and Bergen. “Through this legislation, we’re giving municipal officials the authority to hold absentee landlords responsible for the bad behavior of their tenants by posting a bond with their municipality for properties where there have been repeat disorderly offenses. Landlords would then be able to pass the cost on to their tenants, to show them that there are real consequences to disorderly and disruptive behavior. Hopefully, the legislation will help reduce the number of absentee landlords plaguing urban communities and party houses plaguing college towns.”

The bill, S 869, would expand the “1993 Animal House Law” which applied to Jersey Shore communities to allow municipal governing bodies statewide to adopt ordinances which would require the landlords of properties where tenants have been repeatedly convicted of disorderly, indecent, tumultuous or riotous conduct to post a bond or other security to compensate municipalities for law enforcement and prosecution expenses. The bond would also be used to compensate for any future damage or expense the municipality or its residents suffer from the repetition of such conduct by tenants in the future, according to the bill.

Under amendments to the bill adopted by the Assembly, municipalities which adopt “Animal House” ordinances would be required to notify the landlord of a tenant’s first conviction for disorderly conduct. The amendments also allow a landlord to recover from their tenant any amount of the security bond forfeited as a result of the tenant’s bad behavior.

“The Assembly amendments help this bill strike a proper balance between a landlord’s responsibility to his community, and the personal responsibility of renters,” said Senator Sacco. “We’ve seen in many college towns all over the State that the bad behavior or a select few can sometimes taint the relationships between municipal officials and college administrators for years to come. Through this legislation, we’re taking some of the pressure off municipalities which host colleges and universities, and forcing renters and landlords to abide by the rules of the town or pay the penalty for bad behavior.”

The genesis of the bill is a litany of complaints from various residents about college renters regarding late night parties, loud noise, trash, an excessive number of parked cars and absentee landlords.

The bill sponsors noted that “animal houses” are the exception and not the rule, adding that many college students positively contribute to their community, rather than detract from it.

“For some students, college is a time not just to learn about their course of study, but also to learn how to be productive members of society,” said Senator Turner. “While many students have already learned this important life lesson on how to be a good neighbor, some need to be reminded that they have a responsibility to the community. For those problem properties where students are continually disruptive and disrespectful to their neighbors, this legislation creates a remedy that will help defray some of the cost that bad behavior has on the rest of the community.”

According to the legislators, the problems caused by rowdy tenants and absentee landlords is not only limited to college towns and shore communities, but has also grown in the State’s urban communities.

Both lawmakers noted that college towns around the State have passed ordinances for years in an effort to regulate drinking and rental inspections, and New Jersey’s colleges have worked diligently with their host municipalities to improve relations. However, reports of bad behavior and complaints from the communities still persist.

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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