Three on council broke rent-control law

Records show they failed to file registration statements
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

HOBOKEN - Three members of the City Council who will help decide the future of the rent control in the city have violated the current law as landlords.

Records also show that at least one council member's family has been involved with charging tenants more than their legal rents.

The typically private affairs of the City Council have become a public issue since they considered amending the rent control ordinance more than a month ago. The council is expected to vote on a proposal tomorrow that will limit landlord payouts to tenants who were charged above the legal rent.

Five of the nine council members - Michael Cricco, Theresa Castellano, Terry LaBruno, Michael Russo and Angelo Giacchi - are landlords of rent-controlled apartments, according to city rent-control records.

The five council members collect more than $45,000 a month from their tenants, records show.

Castellano said the overcharge she was cited by the city for - roughly $16,000 to two tenants - happened in 2001, when her now-deceased father was in charge of the financial side of the family business. She said she has since been in compliance with city rules.

Also, Cricco said "a tenant from hell" disputed her rent in 1996, 10 years after she moved out.

"I am living example of why we need the statute of limitations," Cricco said.

Cricco said the tenant asked him for back rent from $11,000 to $18,000, but he won the case in court and the tenant wasn't awarded any money.

The city's rent control ordinance limits the frequency and amount of rent increases, and also requires landlords to file annual registration statements listing the tenants, the rent each pays and the date of the last increase.

A Jersey Journal review showed council members Giacchi and LaBruno had complete and up-to-date records, but Cricco, Russo and Castellano did not.

Cricco's Bloomfield Street property, for example, had statements for 1985, 1995, 1998 and 2004. The ordinance requires a statement every year.

"Either they misfiled, or they lost them. I have them all here at my house," Cricco said. However, while he agreed to let the Journal review the records at his house, he has yet to provide them.

Russo also said that the city lost the files for his property, a condo on Monroe Street. He later said that he didn't have to file at all, because his property wasn't rent controlled. But city officials later confirmed that it is. Russo didn't return phone calls for a third comment last night.

No City Council member was fined for not filing their registration statements, despite the fact that the ordinance calls for fines up to $500. However, the city does not actively enforce the law, and only issues fines when the rent is disputed and the failure comes to light.

At the Journal's prodding, city officials wrote letters to the three council members who did not file 2005 statements. All three have since done so.

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