LAWSUIT CHALLENGES UNION CITY RENT AND EVICTION FREEZES
UNION CITY, N.J., May 12, 2020—The Union City Housing Initiative, which was recently formed to protect property owners from undue and mid-administered real estate regulations in New Jersey’s most densely populated municipality, has filed a 7-count lawsuit seeking to prevent a rent freeze and an eviction freeze recently adopted by the Union City Council from becoming law.
The lawsuit asserts that the rent increase freeze is both unnecessary and overreaching since rent controlled tenants are already protected against unreasonable rent increases and have been for decades. In addition, the rent increase freeze improperly seizes the contract and property rights of the property owner under rent control. The eviction freeze is redundant based on lawfully enacted Emergency Orders by Governor Murphy and exceeds authorities of municipalities under state landlord-tenant statute and the US Constitution.
“While we hold all due respect for the Mayor and his commitment to the residents, we could never allow a breach of our constitutional rights even if we intend to abide by the conditions,” said Ron Simoncini, Executive Director of the Union City Housing Initiative.
“Both the rent freeze and eviction freeze ordinances are arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable and violate the constitutional right of equal protection of laws, impairing the right of contract and constituting an unconstitutional taking without just compensation,” says Charles Gormally of Brach Eichler, attorneys for the Union City Housing Initiative. “The pandemic should not be used as a backdrop to re-write the state statute that governs landlord tenant relationships. There is a carefully crafted balance of landlord and tenant rights that are exclusively governed by the state and, thus, Union City’s new ordinances are an excessive use of the police power granted to the municipality.
The city first adopted a rent increase ban prohibiting the owners from notifying and collecting the annual increases that are scheduled at the lease anniversary dates. Then the city adopted modifications to the existing state statute that regulates the eviction process. These enactments both cite to the impact of the pandemic as the reason for their adoption.
“Our members have been complying with the rent control ordinance and only raising rent once a year and in an amount specified by the rent control ordinance,” says Ron Simoncini, Executive Director of the Union City Housing Initiative.
“Our members recognize the intent of the legislation – we already have agreed with Mayor Stack that it doesn’t make business sense to materially increase rents during the pandemic. In addition, Governor Murphy has issued a number of Emergency Orders, one of which prevents the landlord from evicting a tenant for the failure to pay rent for the duration of the state of emergency. The Governor took an important step to ensure that all tenants, not just rent controlled tenants, are protected against the threat of eviction during this emergency. This is an action that is fully supported by the Union City Housing Initiative and relieves the public emergency that could occur if evictions were allowed to proceed while we should be sheltering in place,” noted Gormally.
For more information visit www.uchousinginitiative.com.
SUMMARY OF CLAIMS AND SOUGHT ACTION
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff and its members demand judgment against Defendants, jointly and severally, for following relief:
A. As to the Freeze Ordinance:
1. Temporarily and preliminarily enjoining Union City from further implementation and enforcement of the Freeze Ordinance;
2. Entering a status quo injunction that pending a final determination by the Court, Plaintiff and its members be permitted to provide required notices to tenants and to obtain rent increases permitted by local rent control ordinances and that in the event any increased rents are collected they will be segregated from the total rent paid and be held in an interest bearing account pending adjudication of this matter;
3. Entering a status quo injunction that pending a final determination by the Court, Union City is restrained and enjoined from retroactively applying the Freeze Ordinance to properly noticed rent increases due and owing March 1, 2020 and allowing Plaintiff and its members to collect these rent increases;
4. Declaring that the Freeze Ordinance is not supported by a rational basis, violates equal protection and is unconstitutional;
5. Declaring that Freeze Ordinance is void and that the Union City’s actions are arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional;
6. Declaring that the Freeze Ordinance is an unconstitutional impairment of Plaintiff’s and its members’ right of contract;
7. Declaring that the Freeze Ordinance is an unconstitutional taking without just compensation;
8. Declaring that the Freeze Ordinance is impermissibly retroactive and;
9. Declaring the Freeze Ordinance void and of no purpose and effect;
10. Awarding compensatory damages pursuant to the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1, et seq.
11. Awarding all reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs in accordance with the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1, et seq.; and
B. As to the Eviction Freeze:
1. Temporarily and preliminarily enjoining Union City from further implementation and enforcement of the Eviction Freeze;
2. Declaring the Eviction Freeze to be preempted by New Jersey’s Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1, void and of no purpose and effect.
3. Awarding compensatory damages pursuant to the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1, et seq.