Referendum on rent control?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Jersey Journal

HOBOKEN - Longtime tenant advocate and former mayoral candidate Dan Thumpson warned City Council members that if they approved controversial changes to rent control, he would eventually beat them on the streets.

Well, the City Council went ahead and approved the amendment weeks ago and Thumpson made good on his promise yesterday when he dropped 70 pages of certified signatures at the City Clerk's Office, signaling the start of a referendum that threatens to repeal the changes.

Since council approval, roughly 15 volunteers hit the streets, collecting more than 1,500 signatures in support of a referendum - more than twice as many as the 720 signatures needed, which represents 15 percent of the votes cast here in the latest state General Assembly election.

The referendum, if successful, would reverse a controversial amendment that was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council, which created a two-year statute of limitations for new tenants to collect any illegal rent paid, while limiting all current tenants to recovering two years' worth of rent paid above the legal amount.

The amendment also requires landlords to serve new and current tenants with disclosure statements that lay out the tenant's rights.

"I don't want to see tenants to lose their rights," Thumpson said. "I don't want to see people kicked out of their homes."

But if history is any guide, the actual referendum may never take place.

Over the years, a number of changes to rent control have been approved by the City Council, each followed by a threat of referendum. Each time, the council pulled back on the changes before the vote took place.

"We have never been afraid to put changes to a vote. The City Council has," said Annette Illing, one of the organizers of the petition.

Mayor David Roberts said he hopes the council will look at changes to rent control that will be comprehensive and have broad-based support, including removing condos, a possible means test and several others.

The petition for a referendum comes on the heels of a court hearing last week brought by tenant advocate and attorney Cathy Cardillo, where city officials appeared willing to work toward a compromise when they agreed to postpone the effective date of the changes by 90 days.

But City Councilman Peter Cammarano, the key supporter of the change, said yesterday's events showed that the opposition is not willing to work with the council.

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