Newark fighting back against neglectful corporate multifamily investors

New ordinance to require all landlords to register all rental units with city, provide city and tenants with contact information for those responsible for maintenance

Large corporate investors have been buying up rental properties in cities across the country, raising rates, and then doing little to maintain the property or interact with their renters.

Newark is fighting back.

In a move that helps all renters, the Newark Municipal Council this week approved a proposal requiring all landlords to register all rental units with the city’s department of economic and housing development.

Under this legislation, which was proposed by Mayor Ras Baraka, the city will gain up-to-date contact information for landlords and tenants to have on hand. The data will facilitate communications among the landlords, their tenants and the city to remedy code violations, address property neglect, and provide timely responses for emergencies, including unsafe situations and utility problems.

More than that, it will put a face on the landlord of a property.

Ras Baraka. (File photo)

“This ordinance not only helps streamline interaction between tenants and property owners toward solutions, but it is also part of our strategy to counter corporate investors who buy up owner-occupied homes, convert them to rentals, and then fail to maintain them,” Baraka said.

“This ordinance also thwarts attempts to hide behind anonymous LLCs that can’t be contacted by their tenants or by the city. We want to ensure that Newark residents have affordable, quality housing, a direct process to address emergencies and repairs, and the peace and security of a stable residence that allows them to enjoy other aspects of life in our great city.”

The ordinance requires landlords to supply the city and tenants with contact information for themselves, for those responsible for regular maintenance, as well as those providing fuel and 24/7 emergency service for each unit in their buildings.

Landlords located outside of Essex County must supply contact information of a party in the county authorized to accept notices from a tenant and receive legal service on the owner.

The property owner must also permit the city to inspect each rental unit at least once every three years or upon a change in occupancy to ensure that the property complies with all state and local laws and regulations. In this inspection process, EHD will work in conjunction with other departments including the Department of Engineering, Department of Health and Community Wellness, Department of Public Safety, Office of the City Clerk, and others.

To offset the cost of inspections, owners will be required to pay an inspection fee of $50 per unit, a fee that must be renewed every three years and upon a change of tenant. Failure to comply will result in an increased fee of $100 per unit, and there will be a re-inspection fee of $50 if a unit is not in compliance upon first inspection. There is no fee for owner-occupied units.

When in compliance, the landlord receives a Certificate of Habitability which permits the property to be rented. Once a rental unit is registered and a Certificate of Habitability issued, the registration is effective so long as the occupancy of the rental unit and the information necessary to obtain the certificate has not changed. In the event of an unsatisfactory inspection, the property will not receive a Certificate of Habitability and must not be leased until the conditions have been corrected.

In addition, the Certificate can be suspended or revoked if the rental unit is occupied by more than the maximum number of tenants allowed by law or if the property is in a dangerous condition. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable in Municipal Court by a fine of as much as $1,250.

Since it is estimated that a substantial number of units are presently not subject to registration by the city, this ordinance requires every currently rented unit in Newark to be registered within 120 days of its adoption.