New Jersey and New York are among the handful of states which allow cities and counties to establish rent control and rent stabilization laws. These regulations cap annual rent increases and help prevent runaway costs. Because these laws are set at the local level, it is difficult to summarize what buildings they apply to and what sorts of regulations are in place, but many older buildings with multiple units (for instance, in Jersey City, buildings built before 1984 and with four or more units) are rent-controlled. Landlords are thus prohibited from spiking rents without substantially improving the building or meeting other exceptions. Even where landlords increase rents just a small amount above the legal limit each year, it can quickly result in a substantial violation.
The attorneys at Matsikoudis & Fanciullo have extensive experience navigating municipal law, such as these rent-control ordinances. Recently, we helped two tenants living in downtown Jersey City achieve a nearly $500-a-month rent reduction under the local ordinance. We persuaded the Jersey City Rent Leveling Board that the landlords in the case had violated the law by increasing rent nearly three-fold since 2006 and that they had not “earned” the increase with building improvements they asserted were made during vacancy periods. But we went further in seeking to provide our clients the legal protection they deserved – we filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court seeking to have our clients’ rents reduced further, to compel their landlords to pay damages for illegally-inflated rent that they charged in the past, and to force the landlords to cease using vacant units as Airbnb rentals, which is also illegal under the Ordinance.
Many tenants don’t know that they live in rent-controlled units: Our clients were unaware that their units were rent-controlled until – by sheer luck – one of them was informed by a friend that many of the buildings in the area were subject to the local Rent Control Ordinance. In litigating the case, we’ve found that landlords may try to get around regulations by simply failing to inform their tenants that regulations apply and neglecting to give them the required documents showing the rent charged in the past. If you are unsure whether your building is subject to rent-control, reaching out to your local rent-leveling board, rent-control department, or landlord/tenant relations office can help you find out. These offices can also help you access a rent history for your building, from which you can discover if your landlord spiked rents, which could be illegal.
If you are or believe you are being charged an illegal rent under local law, please reach out to Matsikoudis & Fanciullo. We believe rent control laws are important to help keep our communities stable and prevent inflation from driving out long-term residents, but these laws are only effective if the people protected by them know it and are able to use the laws to their advantage. We at MF Legal have the experience, expertise, and tenacity to help you secure your rights under local housing laws.