Township of Lopatcong, NJ
Warren County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Township Council of the Township of Lopatcong 6-16-1982 by Ord. No. 363 (Ch. 87 of the 1974 Code of the Township of Lopatcong). Amendments noted where applicable.]
GENERAL REFERENCES
Uniform construction codes — See Ch. 93.
Property maintenance — See Ch. 165.
For the purpose of this chapter, the terms used herein are defined as follows:
BASE RENT
[1]The term "base rent" shall mean the present monthly rental, excluding tax surcharge, hardship surcharge, and improvement surcharge for the given unit. The prevailing base rent for each individual unit is that rent which is contained in the actual rent roll filed with the Rent Control Board, or as otherwise defined in this chapter. Thereafter, "base rent" shall mean the base rent charged for the prior twelve-month period, excluding tax surcharge, hardship surcharge, and improvement surcharge for the given unit.
[Added 6-6-1984 by Ord. No. 1984-5; amended 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7; 8-5-2015 by Ord. No. 2015-08]
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS
Includes amounts paid or incurred to add to the value or to substantially extend the useful life of the landlord's property, but shall exclude amounts paid for incidental repairs, maintenance, replacement of fixtures, appliances, equipment, including conversion of heating units, and any other work that is merely replacement, repair, rehabilitation or that is required by law.
DWELLING
Includes any building or structure or trailer or land used as a trailer park, rented or offered for rent to one or more tenants or family units. Excluded from this definition and from the operation of this chapter are motels, hotels and similar types of buildings and housing units which are fewer than three units.
FAIR RENTAL
The prevailing rental applicable to each dwelling unit the Township as of April 4, 2001, and as may be increased in accordance with this chapter.
[Amended 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
HOUSING SPACE
That portion of a dwelling rented or offered for rent for living and dwelling purposes to an individual or family unit, together with all privileges, services, furnishings, furniture, equipment, facilities and improvements connected with the use or occupancy of such portion of the property.
A. 
The actual cash contribution of the landlord at the time of closing of title and any principal payments to outstanding mortgages.
B. 
The percentage of return on an investment. "Return" shall be measured by the net operating income before depreciation and excluding mortgage principal payments. "Fair return" shall be 6% above the maximum passbook demand deposit savings account interest return available in the municipality.
[Amended 6-6-1984 by Ord. No. 1984-5][2]
[1]
Editor's Note: The definition of "available for rent to tenant," which immediately preceded this definition, was repealed 12-15-1982.
[2]
Editor's Note: The former definitions of "just cause" and "net operating expenses (NOE)," which immediately followed this definition, were repealed 12-15-1982.
[Amended 7-2-1997 by Ord. No. 1997-09; 11-7-2001 by Ord. No. 2001-29; 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7; 8-5-2015 by Ord. No. 2015-08]
Establishment of rents between the landlord and tenants to whom this chapter is applicable shall be determined by the provisions of this chapter. Except as provided in §§ 173-2.1 and 172-23, no landlord shall request or receive a percentage increase in rent which is greater than 3% per annum in the next ensuing year. Said limitation of 3% increase per annum shall apply to only occupied units. Vacant units are governed by § 173-2.1. Those tenants who provide their own heat or the cost of the fuel shall not receive an increase in any one year greater than 2.8% per annum.
[Added 8-5-2015 by Ord. No. 2015-08]
Notwithstanding the provisions of § 173-2, a landlord shall be entitled to negotiate a mutually agreeable fair rental with a prospective tenant in accordance with the following:
A. 
Vacancy decontrol. Upon the voluntary, uncoerced vacation or court-ordered eviction of any tenant for which rent increases are controlled by the terms of the Township of Lopatcong's rent control ordinance, and upon compliance with this section, at the time of rerental of a unit pursuant to this section, a landlord may negotiate a rental with the proposed new tenant at a level mutually agreeable between the landlord and the proposed tenant.
B. 
The landlord must file with the Rent Leveling Board, and provide a copy to the tenant in occupancy, if any, a "vacancy decontrol certification" within 15 days after entering into a lease agreement and accepting a deposit from a new tenant, which shall include the following information:
(1) 
Property address;
(2) 
Apartment number;
(3) 
Vacating tenant's monthly base rent;
(4) 
New tenant's monthly rent;
(5) 
Name of landlord;
(6) 
Address of landlord;
(7) 
Telephone number of landlord;
(8) 
A statement certifying that the vacancy was uncoerced or as a result of court-ordered eviction which statement shall be provided to any tenant then occupying the subject apartment.
C. 
Vacancy decontrol certifications and the statement provided to any tenant then in occupancy shall be approved by the Rent Leveling Board unless a written objection objecting to the certification is filed with the Rent Leveling Board within 10 days of filing a complete certification. In the event an objection is filed, the procedures in § 173-8 shall apply.
D. 
Once a unit has received vacancy decontrol pursuant to this section, it shall be subject to the remaining provisions of the Chapter 173 of the Township Code.
E. 
Notwithstanding the provisions of § 173-5 of this chapter, the filing of a vacancy decontrol certification at the beginning of a lease term shall be deemed sufficient registration of the renal amounts for the given lease term.
F. 
Antiharassment provision. It shall be impermissible for a landlord, or his agents, to willfully do or commit or cause to be done or committed any of the following: harassment, intimidation or other similar action to a tenant with the intent to cause a tenant to vacate the rental unit; any reduction by the landlord in services with the intent to cause the tenant to vacate the premises; and any vacation of the premises which is coerced by the landlord; provided, however, that this provision shall not limit a landlord, or his agents, from any act specifically authorized under the laws of the State of New Jersey.
G. 
Violation antiharassment provision. In addition to the penalties set forth in § 173-17, a willful violation of this subsection shall subject the landlord to: (i) on the first offense, loss of privilege to apply for vacancy decontrol at the subject property for a period of not less than one year; (ii) on the second offense, loss of privilege to apply for vacancy decontrol at the subject property for a period of not less than two years; (iii) upon a finding of any further offenses, loss of privilege to apply for vacancy decontrol at the subject property for a period of five years. The complaint for violation of this provision shall be brought in the Municipal Court for the Township of Lopatcong in accordance with Chapter 173.
[Amended 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
Any rental increase at a time other than at the expiration of a lease or termination of a periodic lease is prohibited and void. Any rental increase not authorized by the provisions of this chapter is prohibited and void.
[Amended 7-2-1997 by Ord. No. 1997-09; 5-29-2001 by Ord. No. 2001-18; 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
Any landlord seeking an increase in rent shall first notify that tenant by ordinary mail, with proof of mailing to be evidenced and corroborated by an affidavit of mailing, of the calculations involved in computing the 3% against the previous year’s base rent. The notice shall be sent not later than 60 days prior to the date that the increased rent sought is to be effective, and the notice shall detail the prior rent, the amount of the increase, expressed in whole dollars (that figure shall be rounded with .49 dollars and below rounded down to the nearest whole dollar figure and .50 dollars and above rounded up to the nearest whole dollar figure) and the new base rent sought. Rental increases are expressly limited to a single increase per year per unit, regardless of whether the unit is occupied or vacant.
A. 
Within 30 days of the effective date of this chapter, every landlord of a dwelling unit subject to this chapter shall file with the Rent Leveling Board a registration statement on a form to be prepared by such Board, showing:
(1) 
The name, address and telephone number of:
(a) 
The owner, agent and any other person authorized to collect rents in behalf of the owner.
(b) 
The superintendent.
(c) 
The person to be contacted in case of emergency.
(2) 
The rent roll for each apartment building covered by this chapter, which shall include:
(a) 
The apartment number.
(b) 
The base rent.
(c) 
All utilities and services that are included in the base rent.
(d) 
Surcharges or other charges.
(e) 
The date the last increase became effective.
(3) 
Rental information which must be verified by documentation.
B. 
This registration statement is a public record and shall be available for inspection at the office of the Township Clerk during normal business hours.
C. 
All changes, including rent increases and the dates thereof, shall be reported to the Rent Leveling Board by the landlord within 30 days of the change.
D. 
For failure to properly register or failure to properly register all changes as provided herein, no landlord shall be permitted to charge or collect any rental increase, surcharge or any other charge until such time as all such registration requirements are met.
E. 
Notices for rent increases, surcharges or any other charges served before compliance with these registration requirements shall be of no force and effect.
F. 
A complete rent roll for the immediate preceding year will be submitted to the Rent Leveling Board by January 10 of each following year. Said rent rolls will include the rental status of all units and as to all occupied units the amount being charged for that unit. The failure to timely submit such rent roll will be considered a violation of this chapter and punishable in accordance with its provisions.
[Added 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
[Amended 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
If, after 30 days of a determination by the Rent Leveling Board resulting in a refund of moneys to a tenant, the landlord has failed or neglected to pay the refund, then the tenant may deduct the refund from the next rental payment or payments if necessary. Any retaliatory actions taken by the landlord shall be considered a further violation of this chapter and punishable in accordance with its provisions.
A. 
From the effective date of this chapter, no landlord may demand or receive any fees for any new services or for any services previously provided without fees.
B. 
From the effective date of this chapter, any existing fees presently charged by the landlord may not be increased for any reason under this chapter. Any landlord objecting thereto and seeking to increase an already existing fee may make application for the same to the Rent Leveling Board setting forth the present fee, the service provided, the amount of the increase sought and the reasons for seeking an increase, including documentation of any costs claimed to be the basis for seeking the increased fee. In no event shall the fee be increased in an amount greater than the automatic yearly increase.
A. 
The Rent Leveling Board shall hold regular meetings every other month on the third Thursday at 7:00 p.m. The meetings shall be held during the following months: January, March, May, July, September and November. Special meetings may be called by the Chairperson or by a majority of the members on three days' notice to all Board members. The public shall be notified at least two days in advance of any special meeting.
[Amended 3-5-2003 by Ord. No. 2003-5; 12-7-2005 by Ord. No. 2005-23; 10-4-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-23]
B. 
All meetings shall be open to the public and subject to the provisions of the Open Public Meetings Law, P.L. 1975, c. 231.[1]
[1]
Editor's Note: See N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq.
C. 
Two Board members shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of doing business.
[Amended 4-4-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-06; 6-12-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-15]
D. 
For any alleged violation of the sections within this chapter there shall be a hearing before the Rent Leveling Board with notice to any landlord by regular and certified mail. Notice shall also be forwarded to any complaining tenant that would be affected by the decision.
[Amended 8-7-2002 by Ord. No. 2002-14]
E. 
The notice shall indicate the date, time and place of the hearing and shall furthermore list the alleged violation by reference to the section.
[Amended 8-7-2002 by Ord. No. 2002-14]
F. 
The owner and parties in interest shall be given the right to file an answer to the complaint and to appear in person or by their attorney and give testimony at the time and place fixed in the complaint, and that the rules of evidence prevailing in courts of law and equity shall not be controlling in such hearings.
[Amended 8-7-2002 by Ord. No. 2002-14]
G. 
A notice of a hearing, giving the hearing date, time and place, shall be sent by the Rent Leveling Board to attorneys or parties at least 10 days prior to the hearing date.
H. 
Each determination of the Board shall be issued in the form of a resolution, and it shall set forth findings of fact, the decision, the reasons for the decision, the amounts granted, if any, and the effective date, and a copy of said resolution shall be mailed to the parties to the action.
[Added 5-1-2013 by Ord. No. 2013-04]
If the landlord shall determine that the allowable base rent is not supported by the current market conditions and/or economic climate, the landlord shall be entitled to reduce the rent on a unit without disturbing the maximum allowable rent under this chapter.
A. 
The landlord shall be permitted to offer a tenant a lower rent than the current rent roll amount by:
(1) 
Offering the lower rent at the beginning of a lease; or
(2) 
Entering an agreement with tenant to increase the rent less than the allowable 3% at the renewal of the lease.
B. 
The decreased rental amount shall not become the new base rent as provided in this chapter, instead it will be calculated separate and apart from the base rent (maximum allowable rent).
C. 
The landlord shall notify the Township in writing each time it wishes to depart from the rent roll. Notice shall be provided to the Township within 10 days of the new lease or renewal of a lease. Notice shall include a brief explanation of the reason for the decrease, i.e., market adjustment, increase freeze for senior citizen or disabled person.
D. 
The landlord's annual rent roll as required under § 173-5F must include two entries for each unit which utilizes a lower rent under this section: actual rent charged; and allowable rent under this chapter.
E. 
The landlord shall be permitted to increase rents previously decreased under this section to the maximum allowable rent under this chapter at any time provided that the increase is done at the beginning of a new lease term.
F. 
The Township may rescind this section by ordinance if, at any time, it has determined that the current economic conditions have changed such that this section is no longer necessary. If this section is rescinded, the landlord will be required at the expiration of each lease to increase the rent charged to the base rent in order to continue protecting the maximum allowable rent.
[1]
Editor's Note: Former § 173-9, Real estate tax refunds; deductions, as amended, was repealed 6-12-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-16.
A. 
Financial hardship.
[Amended 12-15-1982]
(1) 
In case of financial hardship where it is clear that the rental income for the residential property cannot meet mortgage requirements, maintenance costs or otherwise allow the landlord to obtain a fair and reasonable return, the landlord may appeal to the Township Rent Leveling Board, as established herein, for appropriate rental increases indicated by fiscal requirements. The Board may grant hardship increases to landlords to meet commitments and reasonable maintenance costs. Prior to any such appeal to the Board, landlords must send, by certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the occupant of each apartment or dwelling unit, a notice of such appeal, setting forth in detail the basis for such appeal.
[Amended 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
(2) 
Any increase granted pursuant to this section shall be built into base rent for purposes of calculating future rate increases.
(3) 
In any hardship request, the Board shall determine the reasonableness of the landlord's data, figures and calculations and may, in its discretion, make adjustments that it deems necessary.
(4) 
The Board may refuse to grant a hardship increase if the property is not in substantial compliance with the state and local building codes. "Substantial compliance" means 90% qualitatively free of code violations and free of all conditions that threaten health, safety and welfare, such as lack of heat, hot water or electrical hazards.
(5) 
The Board shall prepare application forms for landlords seeking hardship increases.
(6) 
Within 90 days of the receipt of a completed application, the Board shall render a decision on the same.
B. 
Improvements.
(1) 
The landlord may also seek rental increases where major and additional capital improvements or services not previously accorded have been instituted. As a prerequisite for such an increase, notices outlined in Subsection A of this section must be given, which notices must contain the total cost of the completed capital improvement or service; a projection of useful life of the project in years, as claimed by the landlord for purposes of depreciation for income tax purposes; the average cost of the improvement; the total number of square feet of the dwelling or the dwelling complex; the total square feet demised to the tenant; and the capital improvement increase that the landlord is seeking from each tenant.
(2) 
On receipt of such an appeal, the Rent Leveling Board shall determine if the improvement is major in character and, if so, may permit the increase up to but not in excess of 15% of the amount of the rent on the hearing date.
[Amended 12-27-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-40; 6-12-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-14]
A. 
There is hereby created a Rent Leveling Board within the Township of Lopatcong to be known as the "Lopatcong Township Rent Leveling Board." This Board shall consist of three members who shall be appointed by the Mayor with the approval of the Township Council. Terms of office of each Board member shall be three years, and members shall serve without compensation.
B. 
Terms of office shall expire on December 31. On the first year of the Board's existence, one member shall serve until December 31 of that year, the second member shall serve until December 31 of the following year, and the third member shall serve until December 31 of the third year.
C. 
Appointments to unexpired terms of members of the Rent Leveling Board shall be for the remainder of the term. Reappointment shall be for three years.
D. 
The powers of the Board hereinafter granted and defined are final. Two members thereof shall constitute a quorum, and the majority vote of the Board shall be legally sufficient to render a final determination. All determinations of the Board reflecting the decision, findings and determination shall be final.
E. 
No member of the Rent Leveling Board shall participate in any decision involving property in which he or she has a financial interest or has an economic benefit.
The Rent Leveling Board shall implement the purposes of this chapter in the following manner. It shall:
A. 
Promulgate and issue rules and regulations to give effect to the purpose of this chapter and revise, repeal and amend the same from time to time. Sufficient copies of the current rules and regulations shall be on file with the Township Clerk.
B. 
Supply information and assistance to the landlords and tenants and aid them in compliance with this chapter.
C. 
Hearings; increases; records.
[Amended 12-15-1982]
(1) 
Hold hearings upon reasonable notice; administer oaths; take testimony from landlords, tenants and other witnesses; record findings; and render determinations.
(2) 
Grant rental increases, decreases, rollbacks, increases due to hardship and capital improvements and refunds under the provisions of this chapter.
(3) 
Obtain, keep and maintain all available records and other information necessary to the enforcement of this chapter.
D. 
Employ counsel and secretarial aid within the limits of the municipal budget.[1]
[1]
Editor's Note: Former Subsection E, which immediately followed this section and gave the Board the power to issue subpoenas, was repealed 6-6-1984 by Ord. No. 1984-5.
E. 
Retain independent experts which the Board, in its discretion, deems necessary.
F. 
Issue complaints in the Municipal Court for violations of this chapter.
[Amended 9-5-2001 by Ord. No. 2001-25; 12-5-2001 by Ord. No. 2001-38; 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
During the valid life of this chapter, landlords shall maintain standards of service and maintenance of all real and personal property and equipment in and around the housing spaces and dwellings in accordance with proper standards. The services shall include but not be limited to the following:
A. 
No heat (when provision of the heat is the responsibility of the landlord).
B. 
No water (when provision of water is the responsibility of the landlord).
C. 
No hot water (when provision of hot water is the responsibility of the landlord).
D. 
Roof leaks (such as to make an apartment or dwelling uninhabitable).
E. 
Nonfunctioning stove or refrigerators (where supplied by landlord).
F. 
Faulty electrical fixtures (such as to constitute a dangerous condition or threat to the health and safety to the tenants).
G. 
Faulty plumbing (defined as inoperable fixtures, i.e., tub, sink, toilet, kitchen sink).
H. 
Inoperable elevator (when inoperability is due to the neglect of the landlord).
No landlord shall, after the effective date of this chapter, charge any rents in excess of what he was receiving from the effective date of this chapter, except as otherwise authorized by operation of this chapter.
A. 
Rent charges by the landlord shall be reduced or rolled back for any one of the following reasons if so found by the Rent Leveling Board:
(1) 
A decrease in housing space, service, furniture, furnishings, equipment, recreational facilities or any other service as set forth.
(2) 
Failure to perform ordinary repairs, replacements and maintenance.
(3) 
Deterioration of housing space other than normal wear and tear.
(4) 
Charging of a rental in an amount not authorized by this chapter.
[Added 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
B. 
An individual tenant or group of tenants, on his, her or its own behalf or on behalf of a tenant organization, may file a complaint for a rent rollback based upon the foregoing reasons or any other reason where the value of the housing is reduced.
C. 
At the same time, the tenant or group of tenants shall request an inspection from the local housing or property maintenance department, which department shall undertake the inspection, submit a report and be available to the Rent Leveling Board at the hearing. The report shall not be conclusive but shall be evidential, along with testimony by the tenants, the landlord and any other witnesses produced to offer relevant material and testimony. At the request of the tenant or landlord, upon his or her objection to an inspection report, the Board may request that the inspector appear at the hearing to be subject to examination and cross-examination. Notice of an inspection by the local housing or property maintenance department shall be given to the landlord, and the landlord or his or its representative may be present at such inspection.
[Amended 12-15-1982]
D. 
Any rent reduction, if granted by the Board, shall remain in effect until the landlord proves to the Board that the deficiency has been corrected.
E. 
Prior to filing a complaint before the Rent Leveling Board, the tenant or the tenants' group shall first notify the landlord, in writing, to request correction by the landlord of said problem. Failure of the landlord to correct said problem within 15 days of the notice shall allow filing of a complaint with the Rent Leveling Board.
[Added 6-6-1984 by Ord. No. 1984-5]
The owner of newly constructed housing space or dwelling units being rented for the first time shall not be restricted to the initial rent he charges. Any subsequent rental increase, however, shall be subject to the provisions of this chapter.
[Amended 2-19-1992 by Ord. No. 1992-02; 3-1-2006 by Ord. No. 2006-7]
Willful violations of any of the provisions hereof, including but not limited to material misstatements contained in any of the notices required herein, shall be punishable in the Municipal Court by a fine of not more than $2,000, imprisonment for not more than 90 days or a period of community service for not more than 90 days, or any combination thereof. Violations affecting more than one leasehold shall be considered separate violations.
This chapter, being necessary for the welfare of the Township and its inhabitants, shall be liberally construed to effectuate the general intended purposes.
A landlord renting to a new tenant shall be required to submit the following information to the tenant, in writing, and the failure of the landlord to do so shall constitute a violation of this chapter:
A. 
The landlord shall supply a statement to each new tenant, in writing, that there is a rent control and stabilization ordinance or code within the Township of Lopatcong, and that copies of said ordinance are available to the tenant from the office of the Township Clerk during usual business hours, at a minimal cost.
B. 
The landlord shall notify the tenant at the time of entering into a lease of all charges to be paid for by the tenant, including the base rent, tax surcharges, hardship surcharges and improvement surcharges.
C. 
The landlord shall permit the tenant to inspect the leased premises prior to the execution of the rental agreement.
The provisions of this chapter shall expire three years from the date of the final passage of the same.[1]
[1]
Editor's Note: An amending ordinance adopted 12-15-1982, as well as Ord. No. 1985-07, adopted 6-19-1985, Ord. No. 1988-09, adopted 4-20-1988, Ord. No. 1991-12, adopted 4-17-1991, Ord. No. 1994-06, adopted 4-6-1994, Ord. No. 1997-10, adopted 7-2-1997, Ord. No. 2001-7, adopted 4-4-2001, Ord. No. 2003-8, adopted 4-2-2003, Ord. No. 2006-9, adopted 4-5-2006, Ord. No. 2009-02, adopted 2-4-2009, Ord. No. 2012-05, adopted 3-7-2012, and Ord. No. 2015-03, adopted 4-1-2015, provided that "the original and principal Rent Control Ordinance of the Township of Lopatcong, as well as all subsequent amendments and supplements thereto, shall be extended for an additional three-year period from the date of final passage and publication of this ordinance." Former § 173-21, Permissible surcharges, added 12-15-1982, which immediately followed this section, was repealed 6-12-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-17. Former § 173-22, Security deposit, added 2-6-2002 by Ord. No. 2002-2, was repealed 6-12-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-18.