Hoboken to Vote on Vacancy Decontrol

Next month, voters in Hoboken, N.J., will decide on whether to change the city’s rent-control law to allow a complex system of vacancy decontrol. 

 A measure on the November ballot would decontrol all rental apartments in in the city of 50,000 people when the current tenant moves out. Apartments in buildings with four or fewer units would be permanently deregulated, as would condominium units that the owner rents out. In other buildings with at least five apartments, the landlord could charge new tenants market rate, but the apartment would then go back into rent control, with limited annual increases based on the new rent.

The initiative, sponsored by group of property owners called the Mile Square Taxpayers’ Association, has drawn criticism for being confusing. It asks: “Shall the City of Hoboken continue annual rental increase protections for current residents of rent-controlled properties but allow property owners to negotiate rents for vacant apartments and exempt buildings…?” The city government and the Hoboken Fair Housing Association, a tenant-advocate group, argued that the wording implies that a Yes vote would continue rent regulations. They got a court to order the city to add a note on the ballot, stating that a Yes vote would allow vacancy decontrol and a No vote keep the law as it is.

Mile Square Taxpayers’ Association head Ron Simoncini said the wording wasn’t confusing, because vacancy decontrol wouldn’t affect “existing tenants who stay in their units.” Tenant groups contend that it would increase harassment. The city has seen substantial gentrification since the late 1970s. 

Hoboken’s Rent Control Ordinance, in effect since 1973, applies to apartments built before 1987 where rents aren’t subsidized. Landlords can add a 25 percent when a tenant moves out voluntarily; can pass along water, sewer, and tax increases; and can apply to the city for a “hardship increase” if they are not mking enough money.

Another Hudson County city, Bayonne, will vote on whether to repeal a vacancy-decontrol measure enacted last year.