New Jersey Law Journal

Bill Targeting Removal of Troublesome Tenants Advances

New Jersey Law Journal — December 21, 2015

Capitol Report

Amid a spirited exchange between the bill's co-prime sponsor, Senator Ron Rice, and tenant activists, a bill that would make it easier to remove tenants who commit criminal acts within an apartment community was voted out of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. A1877 provides that tenants, occupants or guests who conduct criminal activity that creates imminent serious danger to others, the building or the immediate vicinity of the rental premises may be evicted upon a showing of good cause by the landlord.

Rice, who also sits on the committee, urged the bill's passage to protect the health and safety of residents in apartment buildings where criminal activity is prevalent. Calling the bill "tough love," he spoke about residents in Newark, where his district office is located, who have come to him concerned about criminal activity in their apartment buildings. "We need to protect the rights of not just the tenants, but the health and welfare of the residents in the community," said Rice.

Senator Brian Stack, a former tenant advocate, urged the bill be held because of "major issues" including an overbroad definition of "criminal activity."

"On a daily basis, I deal with tenants as a mayor and now as a state Senator," said Stack. "This would become another mechanism to perform rent control of communities." He pointed out that landlords currently have a mechanism to remove tenants and cited abuses of the current mechanism to target the poor and non-English speaking communities.

"[This bill] could become a major assault on tenants of New Jersey," said Stack. He promised to attend the meetings in Newark with Rice.

Senator Jennifer Beck supported the bill and testified about her experience with the revival of Asbury Park. "I heard complaints that the tenants are running prostitution rings, drug rings, etc. and landlords are not able to act; their hands are tied," said Beck. "There is an issue and we need to find a middle ground.... I am hopeful that the sponsors will navigate this complicated issue and believe that Senator Rice has given his commitment that he will do just that. I look forward to seeing a better bill on the floor in the senate."

The association opposed the bill because it believes the bill is overly broad in that it allows for the eviction of a tenant upon a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a tenant, occupant, or guest has conducted criminal activity from the lessee. The association is concerned that the lessee may be evicted based on the actions of an occupant or guest even, presumably, where the tenant is unaware of those actions and/or lacks the ability to control those actions. Additionally, the association is concerned about the removal of innocent victims such as family members, especially in the context of domestic violence incidents. Finally, the association pointed out in a statement that the requirement of an individual to testify in a civil court prior to a criminal court proceeding could result in inconsistent judgments and implicate Fifth Amendment rights.

Among those supporting the bill are the New Jersey Realtors and New Jersey Apartment associations. Opponents include Catholic Charities, the New Jersey National Organization for Women, Newark Tenants United, Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union, and New Jersey Tenants Organization.

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