By using an alternative law to push the city’s new rent control regulations to a public vote, advocates of rent control in Bayonne have successfully collected enough petition signatures to qualify for a ballot referendum this November. The activists want to maintain the old rent control law over one passed by the City Council last November that would gradually do away with rent control throughout the city.
The petition, which proposes an ordinance called “Keep Rent Control Ordinance,” successfully obtained 613 valid signatures, well above the 563 signatures needed to qualify it for the ballot for a public vote this coming November.
City Clerk Robert Sloan said the matter will now go before the City Council, and the council has 20 days from Aug. 9 to withdraw the changes it passed last November. If the council refuses or chooses not to withdraw these changes, the matter goes onto the ballot.
“The existing [new] ordinance will be in effect until the public votes,” Sloan said. “The committee has 10.88 percent of the number of voters at the last general election, which is enough to qualify the petition for submission to the City Council and then the ballot.”
Rent control changes
Last November, the City Council voted to adopt an ordinance that largely does away with rent control in the city, removing it after an existing tenant moves out.
Douglas Wasama, chairman of Keep Bayonne Rent Control, the local rent control advocacy group that led the campaign to restore rent control, said that if the petition is successful in November, the city will return to the old rent control rules.
The City Council is expected to take up the matter again at its Aug. 15 meeting.
This is the third attempt to do away with the rent control changes. Earlier this year, the group attempted and failed to get the legal number of signatures that would have put the matter on the ballot by referendum.
This attempt takes a different approach and will seek to propose its own ordinance.
“This is similar to a referendum in that it would put this up to a public vote,” said Sloan. “But in this case, they would have to draft their own ordinance.”
Advocates for the initiative said the model for the new ordinance will be the ordinance that the City Council voted to abandon.
“Let the people decide, not paid politicians,” said Wasama.
“The existing [new] ordinance will be in effect until the public votes.” – City Clerk Robert Sloan
In their last effort in March, the Bayonne Tenants Organization came up about 70 signatures short during their drive to put the question up for a public vote.
The group submitted signatures in December, but these were invalidated because of a technicality. The group failed to provide identification for the purpose on the top of each page so that those signing the petition were clear on what the petition was for.
In February, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Hector Velazquez ruled in favor of the City of Bayonne, saying that petitions filed to overturn the changes to the city’s rent control ordinance were invalid.
The City Council rejected an even bigger change for rent control in July 2011 after residents complained that it was too arbitrary. Under the original proposal, a landlord could have opted out of rent control simply by upgrading his or her property. This would not have protected existing tenants. The second ordinance, which was approved last November, protected existing residents, but many residents fear they might face intimidation by landlords to move out.
The City Council can vote to rescind the changes it made in November, but most public officials contacted said this is unlikely.
“I think what we did last November was a fair compromise,” said Council President Terrence Ruane. “Those people who currently have rent control are protected. When they move out, landlords can upgrade their properties and know they will get a fair rate of return on their investment.”