HOBOKEN — A low-income Hudson County man could lose the place he calls home as the result of a lengthy legal dispute with his landlord.

Jeff Trupiano has lived in his Hoboken apartment-turned-condo for over three decades. He moved into the rent-controlled unit at 703 Park Ave. in 1991 under a former owner.

For the past five years, Trupiano has been locked in a legal battle with his landlord over a significant rent increase. Court records show that the landlord tried jacking the monthly rent by nearly $3,000 and is attempting to get retroactive rent from Trupiano.

A few years after Trupiano moved in, the apartment building was bought by Amaconn Realty, Inc. Then in 2001, the owner, who is Trupiano's landlord, turned the apartments into condominiums.

703 Park Avenue in Hoboken, NJ. (Jacqueline Greco, Weichert Realtors via Zillow)
703 Park Avenue in Hoboken, NJ. (Jacqueline Greco, Weichert Realtors via Zillow)

Sales records on Zillow.com show that one two-bedroom condo at the building was sold in April for $449,000.

Trupiano, who is in his 60s and makes less than $30,000 a year working at a local health food store, pays $783 in rent each month. His attorney, Dana Wefer, told New Jersey 101.5 that as a low-income renter, he will be protected from eviction for more than another 20 years because of the Tenant Protection Act.

But in 2017, Trupiano's landlord issued a hardship increase based on an appraisal of his unit. Wefer said that the appraisal was "hypothetical" and based on how much the unit could bring in if it were completely renovated.

The kitchen of a renovated condo at 703 Park Avenue in Hoboken, NJ. Not Trupiano's unit. (Jacqueline Greco, <a href="https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/703-Park-Ave-APT-1-Hoboken-NJ-07030/162061260_zpid/?" target="_blank">Weichert Realtors via Zillow</a>)
The kitchen of a renovated condo sold for $449,000 at 703 Park Avenue in Hoboken, NJ. (Jacqueline Greco, Weichert Realtors via Zillow)

According to a briefing provided by Wefer, the landlord knew that the building had a protected tenant and chose to proceed with the conversion anyway. It also notes that Trupiano continues to pay his rent on time despite the unit having been neglected for years.

"The property has been fundamentally transformed from one that was a prudent and sound investment to a single ill-maintained rent-controlled condominium unit, encumbered with a protected tenant who cannot be evicted for twenty-six years."

A GoFundMe is raising money for Trupiano's court costs and increasing rent. Created by the Hoboken Fair Housing Association, the fundraiser claims that an unfavorable decision could gut the Tenant Protection Act.

While Wefer is handling the case pro bono, there are high costs for appealing court decisions including the requirement to pay for thousands of pages of transcripts. Wefer said that they will likely need to appeal as a judge recently gave an oral decision stating that Trupiano's rent should increase based on the property's equity.

Wefer added that it's not hyperbole to say that the Tenant Protection Act is at risk. The attorney said she would not be surprised to see Trupiano's case go up to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Previous rulings from the state's highest court, such as Mayes v. Jackson Township Rent Leveling Board (1986), have upheld rent control ordinances and a landlord's right to "realize a just and reasonable return on the property."

An attorney for the landlord did not respond to a request for comment.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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