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'Renter Hell' reform bills in the works

'Renter Hell' Reform Bills in the Works

Feb 26, 2018

Shannon Mullen: @MullenAPP; smullen4@gannettnj.com; 732-643-4278

New Jersey - Proposed reforms sparked by the Asbury Park Press "Renter Hell" investigation stalled in the Legislature last year, but a new series of bills is expected this year. The Press series cast a light on low-income tenants who were forced to live in dangerous, rat-infested apartments while negligent landlords, often faceless limited liability corporations, collected millions in federal rent subsidies — in some cases even after their properties were deemed uninhabitable. After the series publication, then-Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, co-sponsored a renters "bill of rights" and other bills aimed at addressing some of the worst abuses, including the widespread practice of "blacklisting" tenants simply for exercising their legal rights in court. But the legislation, which focused on rental properties that receive federal housing subsidies, never came up for a full vote.

However, Beck's successor, Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal, told the Press he has spoken to renters about the problems they've experienced with negligent landlords and agrees "in theory" with many of the bills' objectives. In particular, he believes landlords that are corporations or LLCs ought to be "more transparent" about the identities of their principal partners and investors.

"The landlord registration requirement is something that's really important," said Gopal, who unseated Beck in the November election. "I've spoken with folks who are unable to get in touch with their landlords at all." Gopal said he has spoken with fellow legislators concerned about these issues and believes that new bills incorporating elements of last year's proposals will be coming out soon. He said it was premature to get into any specifics. Gopal said he believes most landlords are reputable and responsive when problems arise. But, he said, "If there are some really bad actors we want to weed them out to make sure they don't take advantage of the tenants."

"We've got to get this done, and get it done in the early part of the year," he added.


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