ENVIRONMENT

State lawmakers from both parties take aim at negligent landlords

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Homemade video shows the rats rule at Yanira Cortes’ Newark apartment where she has four children.

“My four-year-old started regressing because she’s afraid to go to the bathroom at night so she’s urinating in the bed because she doesn’t want to get up to go to the bathroom at all,” said Cortes.

Nearby on West Kinney in another apartment, a workman for the owner reportedly sealed the windows shut on a 76-year-old woman and her disabled son. NJTV News tested one of the windows.

Democrat Sen. Ron Rice of Newark and Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County have teamed up on legislation called the Safe Sanitary Subsidized Rental Housing Bill of Rights. It’s a bill that targets landlords who fail to meet safety and sanitary standards while their tenants pay most of their rent through public assistance and landlords who hide behind post office box addresses as in Asbury Park.

“In this town alone 300 different LLCs were all registered to the same PO box and therefore for our enforcement people in the city as they are trying to enforce the codes, they can’t track down a human being,” said Beck.

“The state government and federal government continue to pay these landlords, even though they know there are a series of violations there and some of these residents need to be removed because of unhealthy conditions,” said Rice.

The senators were not welcomed at this Asbury Park boarding house where one resident summed up the conditions.

“I got bugs, no air, I have the drug addicts in and out all through the night,” said resident Jerry Gore.

Seconds later, the manager shewed us off the property. No pictures. The man pointed out as the owner took off as NJTV News approached.

At another Asbury Park boarding house, a resident who says he feared eviction if he talked, whispered about the conditions.

“It’s horrible, I’m getting out,” said resident Brian Sturdee.

Inside, small bugs crawled on the floor of the common bathroom. Beck said the building is known to code inspectors as a repeat offender. But, the owner vehemently denied it and says often conditions deteriorate because residents don’t practice good hygiene and other good habits.

“We have no outstanding penalties, no nothing. So far, I don’t understand why we’re being singled out,” said building co-owner Musa Guven.

The senators say their bill moved through one committee with no opposition and testimony from Cortes that included putting her rent in escrow for two years. Days later she received an eviction notice.

“It appears that the landlord is retaliating because this individual complained,” Beck said.

NJTV News is awaiting a call back from the landlord for response to this and other complaints.

Housing advocates say a bill like this is long overdue — one that will reign in landlords whose tenants rely on public tax dollars to pay part of the rent.

“I think it will help make the owners accountable,” said senior organizer Bill Good.

Senators say the whole effort needs better cooperation among the local housing agencies, the state and federal governments because public dollars shouldn’t underwrite or subsidize any inhumane conditions.