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Vitale Bill To Protect Senior Tenants Approved By Community And Urban Affairs Panel

Measure Would Extend Local Rent Control Protections to Renters Over Age of 55

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would change existing state law governing local rent control ordinances in order to protect senior tenants was approved today by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.

“With one of the highest costs of living in the US, it is often difficult for those on fixed incomes – like senior citizens – to make ends meet, particularly when they experience an unexpected spike in costs, such as a rent hike,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “In order to ensure fairness and predictability for New Jersey renters, municipalities throughout the State have instituted rent control ordinances to keep their communities affordable. Unfortunately, newer communities are exempt from rent control rules and are subject to unrestrained hikes. We must correct the law so that folks living in senior rental communities are not left without the vital and necessary protections afforded under rent control.”

The bill (S-897) would clarify the Legislature’s intent in regards to a statute which provides an exemption from local rent control for newly constructed multiple dwellings. Currently, the state offers an exemption to any rent-control rules to all new construction for 30-years – the length of their mortgage. Under the bill, multiple dwellings which cater to tenants aged 55 and older would not be able to claim this exemption. Senator Vitale noted that New Jersey does not have statewide rent control, but regulates how municipalities can impose their own rent control through local ordinance.

Senator Vitale added that this bill is in response to concerns from seniors living in the age-restricted community of Woodbridge Hills in his district. Under the current exemption, more than 500 senior citizens have experienced significant rent increases between 16.5 and 17.9 percent over the last few years, creating a financial hardship for many tenants.

When the State approved and later clarified the exemption from rent control for new construction, the legislative statements attached to the reform law passed in 1999 noted that it was to apply only to non-senior citizen developments. However, the law itself, and subsequent regulation, have been silent on this issue.

“When owners of rental units bait seniors with low introductory rates and deals, and then switch out with much higher rates after filling the units, they are taking advantage of residents who are often less mobile and unlikely to move,” said Senator Vitale. “It is imperative that the law protects seniors so that they do not fall victim to these schemes and so they are able to live out their golden years without the uncertainty of unfair rent hikes hanging over their heads.”

The bill was approved by a vote of 3-0-1. It now heads to the full Senate for review.

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