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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Middle Restructures Rent Leveling Board

Vince Conti
A standing-room-only crowd at Middle Township Committee’s Dec. 18 meeting.

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Middle Township Committee adopted an ordinance Monday, Dec. 18, that restructures the township’s Rent Leveling Board.

The board hears and decides on applications for rent increases at over a dozen mobile home parks in the township. It is a part of the municipality’s rent control process, which applies only to mobile home parks and not to home or apartment rentals.

The township rent control ordinance allows annual rent increases of 3.5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

The mobile home parks have some of the most affordable rents in the township. Kathy Pennington, a resident of Grand Woods North in Rio Grande, urged the committee to keep in mind the large number of seniors on fixed incomes who reside in the parks.

“Rent control is still needed,” Pennington said, “and if it were lost, the park owners would raise rents astronomically.”

Beech Fox Jr., a landlord at Edgewood Village in Rio Grande, argued that park owners have a need to recover inflated expenses. “I don’t believe that not being able to keep up with inflation is a fair practice,” Fox said.

Mayor Tim Donohue reminded the audience that the ordinance adopted at this meeting “only deals with restructuring the board.” He called the current board dysfunctional.

The changes in the board structure include expanding the board from five to seven members to make getting a quorum easier. Terms of membership were reduced from five- to three-year terms. The ordinance also clarifies how a chairman and vice chairman are chosen and how board vacancies are filled.

The previous requirement that one member of the board be a landlord and one a tenant was changed to read that such representation is desired “to the extent possible.”

Despite the fact that the new ordinance only deals with issues of board makeup and structure, the concern in the room was over what, if anything, comes next.

Pennington, who said she was speaking on behalf of several tenants, worried that this move was a prelude to changes in the rent control policies. She reminded the committee that “rent increases are big concerns.” She raised the potential problem that family-owned parks might be sold to large corporations that would raise rents.

Fox saw the same possible outcome but from a different vantage point. He argued that if owners cannot keep up with expenses they may be forced to sell to large companies.

The debate came as park owners and tenants were trying to deal with the impact of two years of high inflation. Tenants feared losing rent control; landlords like Fox argued that the 3.5% cap fails to allow park owners to keep up with inflation.

The Township Committee will be able to appoint members to the newly defined rent leveling board in January, when the governing body reorganizes.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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