NJ slumlords would lose their subsidies under proposed law
Two state senators have teamed up to close the door on negligent landlords. Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, and Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, are promoting their Safe Subsidized Rental Housing Bill of Rights, which is specifically aimed at landlords who fail to meet safety and sanitary standards while their tenants continue to pay rent, many through public assistance.
The bill puts in place a framework that ensures negligent landlords can't get away with this anymore. Beck says over the past couple of months, she and Rice have seen "housing where rats, cockroaches, fecal matter, urine, strewn across these living arrangements where little children and families are trying to make a life."
What makes things worse, she says, is that the state and federal governments continue to pay these landlords even though there are serious violations in these living units. Tenants have asked for help because up to 20 rats are running around their kitchen and the landlords are doing absolutely nothing about it.
"It's unconscionable," says Beck.
Part of the problem is that landlords have zero incentive to make the repairs because they continue to get paid.
But under the new bill created by Beck and Rice, the state of New Jersey and the federal government can withhold a portion or all of the rent for any unit so that the landlord is forced to make the repairs or get rid of the infestations. If they refuse, that money will be used for people to make the repairs themselves.
Another problem is that landlords are hiding behind post office box addresses and there's no way to track them down. "There's no name, there's no phone number, there's no email, there's no street address," says Beck.
In February, there was an investigation in which 300 limited liability corporations were found to be registered to the same P.O. Box in Lakewood. It is now the subject of an FBI investigation.
Code enforcement folks are trying to issue notices to an LLC that's registered to a P.O. box and they can't track anyone down. So Beck says under the new bill, contact information must be provided so that local code enforcement, state and federal inspectors can track down the people who own the properties and are responsible.
Beck says many of her constituents feel very intimidated. Anytime that they register a complaint with the housing authority, the state of New Jersey or with their landlord, they are often threatened with eviction. So many of them tolerate and survive the horrendous living conditions because they are afraid if they complain, they won't have a roof over their heads.
Beck says one woman, Yanira Cortes, of Newark, came to the Senate Community Affairs Committee to testify. She has four children and complained about rats running over their toys and in the kitchen. Cortes said her kids actually stomp their feet before going into the kitchen to get rid of the rats. Beck says Cortes has been complaining for two years and the landlord has done nothing. And now because she testified, the landlord filed an eviction notice against Cortes.
The bill moved out of Committee unanimously. She and Rice have been talking to housing advocates, people in the industry to discuss ways to ensure that this bill is truly effective in bringing about change.
Beck hopes that his bill move through the Senate and Assembly.
"This is subsidized by the taxpayers of New Jersey and all of our residents deserve better than this," she said.