Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tenants, Know Your Rights

Mayoral candidate James Pivnichny correctly notes that the incumbent mayor's promise to intercede for Connolly tenants on security deposits has no legal weight.

It might have been more appropriate for the mayor to point tenants to New Jersey's landlord-tenant laws, which are online as well as in print and clearly define courses of action in situations such as not getting a security deposit back. Click here for the chapter on security deposits.

I myself have had to refer to landlord-tenant laws to avoid exploitation. For example, when the building changed hands, the former landlord sent me a notice indicating he had turned over my security deposit to the new landlord. What should have happened next was that the new landlord would send me a letter telling me where the money was banked, as it was still my money. This did not happen. Eventually, I deducted it from the rent, noting the state law that provides for such action when the landlord fails to inform the tenant which bank is holding the money in an interest-bearing account.

A landlord has 30 days to return a security deposit when a tenant moves out, and is liable to pay double the amount if this does not occur. Refer to the link above for more details.

Tenants must arm themselves with the facts on their rights. Landlords are supposed to give each new tenant a copy of the state booklet on tenant-landlord rights and responsibilities, but I have always had to get my own copy. (Update: Connolly Properties states on its web site that all tenants are given a copy of Truth in Renting and also provides a link to the online information.)

Curiously, Assemblyman Jerry Green, the mayor's mentor, knows all about the booklet, because he sponsored legislation regarding its distribution at state expense. The mayor is a former paralegal and must know that knowledge of the law is the tenant's best resource, more so than relying on an elected official to resolve individual cases.

The late attorney Robert Kraus once held a pro bono session at the YMCA on tenants' rights, but only two tenants showed up. In retrospect, the need was great, but for some reason tenants did not take advantage of the opportunity. Now that the Connolly issue has put a spotlight on the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, distributing those booklets would be a great service. They are available in English and Spanish.

Barring that, the discussion at these City Hall meetings should be about the letter of the law, not about relying on the intercession of a person running for re-election. These problems have been festering all during the current administration's tenure. The cure now is knowledge, not promises.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...

The sad thing Bernice is that some tenants will see a politician's desire to reelection as an opportunity to exploit for their own benefit, hopefully there will be far more tenants that see through this.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

At the meeting last week, the pamphlets were passed out. Alas, there was a small group as Connolly had all the noticed removed from the buildings.

7:37 PM  

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