Blog

Montclair Rent Control 2.0

Some thoughts on the compromise, how we got here and how we move forward.

I’m excited to share that a compromise has been reached on the substance of a new rent control law.

My sincerest thank you to the Tenants Organization of Montclair, Montclair Property Owners Association, faith leaders, community organizations, various external experts and advocates, Township staff and my current colleagues as well as former Governing Body members. I especially want to thank Deputy Mayor Hurlock who joined me on Monday for a critical meeting with leaders of both sides where two of the last major outstanding issues were resolved between parties. I know that the Mayor and many of our other colleagues have spent countless hours on this too and due credit to all.

Compromise is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions”. Having been a participant in and witness to much of the concession making, I know that everyone is walking away from this a little unhappy — which is my definition of compromise. Thank you to each and every person who has worked to get us something that I think works. Now, let’s not ever do this again.

It has been a two year saga and I hope a lot of lessons have been learned. Never again should such a consequential law be rushed through in a pandemic and in the middle of a campaign when the issue is also a major campaign issue between the two mayoral candidates. The result of that was a poorly written law that left most renters unprotected and cost us a lot of money and an incalculable amount of time ever since it was enacted and immediately halted by the courts. The heat of politics and political ambition should never drive major policy decisions. Judgement is clouded and it becomes too much about how someone is going to look and who gets credit vs. what the actual substance of the policy is and what it would achieve.

As a former rent control official for New York State, I know what good and bad rent control policy looks like. One of the most fundamental rules is that if you’re going to have rent control, you better have it on as many units as possible or tenants in uncontrolled units will be hit with the associated costs that an owner isn’t able to recoup on those few controlled units. That is why since before I was even elected, I was criticizing the previously passed law for leaving most renters out – and – why I’ve never stopped advocating for rentals in two and three family dwellings to be included. I’m really pleased to share that Montclair Rent Control 2.0 includes rental units in two and three family dwellings so long as the owner doesn’t occupy one of the units in that structure. That’s a big deal and nearly doubles the amount of renters who will now be covered. This affects thousands of people’s ability to afford to stay in Montclair and I would have not accepted this deal without it.

To be clear, I did not get close to everything I wanted in rent control 2.0. I always thought instead of a fixed annual increase, that instead it should be tied to the Consumer Price Index and set by a Board each year. Then you wouldn’t need the Council doing rent freezes because the economic conditions would tell the Board that it had to do 0 or 1% in a tough year. And while I admire doing a special rate of 2.5% for seniors, I worry that without strong oversight or enforcement mechanisms, that it can invite discrimination against seniors. We’ll have to watch for that. I also wanted tenants to be able to get a discount on multi-year leases and for families to have succession rights for a rental that may have been in their family for a long time. But again, this is about compromise and all of us being a little unhappy and at the same time, satisfied.

Rent control is a statement of values for a community. If we are controlling how much rents can increase, regardless of market conditions, you are inevitably pushing the costs that might exceed that 4% into the rest of the marketplace to absorb. But I feel and I think a lot of other people in Montclair feel like we have to take serious action to try to blunt the upward cost trajectory that our rental stock is on, in order to preserve the socioeconomic diversity that made Montclair Montclair in the first place. And I hope we can collectively support this knowing that it will help a lot of people in our town.

Like so many other issues, I get the good fortune of being able to help carry the baton across the finish line with my vote — but I say that to remind everyone of the relay that this has been over many years and of all the people who have worked tirelessly to achieve smart rent control in Montclair. This major achievement is their achievement.

Thanks for reading.

-Peter