The Lakewood Township Committee's abolishment of the Rent Control Board (which was done in 2016 to help "one of the boys") continues to cause havoc for landlords and tenants alike.

The Rent Control Board was granted jurisdiction to accept and investigate complaints from tenants of illegal rental increases; reduce rents based on landlord's breach of covenants such as habitability; as well as to accept applications from landlords who are seeking rental increase based on hardship, unusual expenses, tax surcharge or other circumstances; and to adjust rents based on landlord's subsequent change in position caused by law or economic conditions.

The Township's Rent Control regulations permit regular annual increases automatically, however, hardship increases (which is when a landlord finds that present rentals are insufficient to cover the cost of mortgage payments, taxes and maintenance) are permitted only upon "special application to the Rent Control Board for good cause shown."

The regulations stipulate:

The Rent Control Board shall, within 60 days following the proper filing of a completed application for a rental increase, render a decision on the application.

If, due to no fault of the landlord, the Rent Control Board does not render a decision on a properly filed and completed application for a rental increase within 60 days of receipt of same, the landlord shall be entitled to have any rental increase granted on the application, applied retroactively to the first rental payment period 30 days after the filing of the application.

Based on this provision - which remains on the books despite the abolishment of the Board - the landlord of Prime Apartments has declared that the hardship application he submitted to the non-existent Board 60 days ago is now retroactively granted and he is raising rent to $2,483. When the Board existed, such an increase request would require a public hearing. However, now that the Board no longer exists, the increase is granted automatically.

As first reported here on FAA News, back in May 2023, 60 tenants of Prime Apartment tenants served their landlord and his property manager with a Superior Court lawsuit alleging a long list of illegal rent increases and associated harassment, intimidation and retaliation.

The tenants are Alexander Sternbuch, Shmuel and Rochel Bogart, Dovid Balter, Shmuel Banker, Aaron Beer, Yaakov Cohen, Moshe and Feigy Eisemann, Ezra Esses, Tzvi and Zipora Feifer, Chezky Feigenbaum, Yehoshua Finkel, Yisroel Friedman, Ashi Fuchs, Boruch Gellis, Yaakov Glustein, Yonah Goldberg, Yaakov Gordon, Esther Gorelick, Elozor Greenberger, Shmuel Grunhut, Yehuda Gugenheimer, Alter Halberstam, James Holtzberg, Yisroel Kanarek, Dovid Kaplan, Kirnos, Zev Kramer, Abraham Leibiker, Yehuda and Yehudis Marcus, Steven Meisels, Yisrael Mordowitz, Nochum Naiman, Chayala and Moshe Olshin, Dovid Paskesz, Meir Poltzer, Tzvi Puretz, Shlomo Reidel, Mordechai Reis, Menachem Rosenblum, Dov Rosenman, David Rothstein, Yaakov Schechter, Chaim Schwab, Chanoch Shapiro, Temima and Zachary Shemesh, Naftoli Simon, Yosef and Zizi Simon, Mordechai Snyder, Samuel Tepfer, Yisroel Weiss, and Moshe Wilner.

The tenants are represented by Attorneys Ian Goldman and Adam Pfeffer Esq. of Levin Shea Pfeffer and Goldman. (These attorneys also serve as the Lakewood Municipal Prosecutor and counsel to the Lakewood Township Municipal Utilities Authority and Board of Fire Commissioners.)

Defendants are Prime Apartments, which is owned by Cheskel Brach, and Rushmore Management, the property manager.

The allegations contained in the lawsuit include that the landlord entered into contracts he prepared with tenants and specifically in writing agreed not to raise rents more than 5% at renewal and be bound by Lakewood rent control; however, he is attempting, and has raised rent above the 5% Lakewood Township Rent Control Ordinance, and in one instance raised rent 50% over current rent in breach of not only the existing leases but also in violation of law.

To date, some of the tenants have collectively decided to continue to make payments to the landlord at 5% above their most recent lease that they agreed to.

Each month they receive a statement from the landlord with arrears accruing as a balance for not paying the full amount requested pursuant to the landlord's unilateral and illegal lease changes and rental increase.

Eviction proceedings and threats of eviction proceedings have started due to these partial payments which is why the Plaintiffs have initiated this action.

The lawsuit seeks for an order reinstating the rental amounts to the initial amounts, ordering that the tenants regain access to the storage units, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney costs and fees, and any such other damages as the law deems just and proper to make the Plaintiffs whole again.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in June 2023, Marlton Attorney Lori C. Greenberg, Esq., representing Prime Apartments, has filed an Answer to the Complaint together with counter-claims and separate defenses, asserting that the parties entered into lease agreement contracts, which provides how much rent is to be paid on a monthly basis, and the number of occupants that can reside at the premises, and nature of tenants occupancy, and they are in breach of their leases either because they failed to pay their rent, a rent increase, had too many occupants residing in the unit and/or occupying the unit in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the lease agreement, including by taking up storage units that are not in their lease and they are not paying for the storage.

Counter-claims include: Frivolous Claims; Unjust Enrichment; and Misrepresentation.

As previously reported here on FAA News, following the filing of this lawsuit, Cheskel Brach, the landlord of Prime Apartments, served the tenants with a Hasra'ah (a warning) from the Bais Din of the Central Rabbinical Congress of the U.S.A. and Canada (the CRC).

Additionally, as previously reported here on FAA News, Bais Din Zedek which is under the auspices of Rav Yisroel Knopfler, has also authored a Hasra'ah against the tenants.

Ignoring all of these warnings, as previously reported here on FAA News, the tenants cranked things up a whole notch higher by filing in Court for emergent relief seeking to take the building out of the hands of its landlord and have a Receiver appointed to manage the building instead!

No hearing on this motion has been scheduled.

Out of desperation, as previously reported here on FAA News, the tenants recently renewed their efforts to seek emergency relief from the court. No judge scheduled a hearing on this motion either.

In the meantime, as previously reported here on FAA News the landlord filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State A Claim.

The tenants have not yet responded to this motion which is returnable this Friday, September 8, 2023. Opposition was due this past Thursday.

In a new court filing, the landlord's attorney lays out very simply the basis of his assertion that the lawsuit must be dismissed:

The landlord filed a hardship rent increase application with the Lakewood Rent Control Board on June 9, 2023 on the basis that he is bleeding money from this property and must raise rents in order to support the economic viability of the apartment complex. Per the language of the Township's Ordinance, the Rent Control Board has to rule on the increase in 60 days or it is granted automatically. As the (non-existent) Board did not rule on the application by August 9, 2023, it became granted automatically retroactive to 30 days prior.

As such, as of August 1, rents were increased to $2,483 as requested in the hardship application to the Rent Control Board.

The tenants filed their recent Order To Show Cause simply as a run around the Rent Control Board and a futile attempt to stop this increase. Continued litigation in light of the procedural history and legal arguments presented should be viewed solely as a delay tactic.

In this recent emergency relief application, Chaya Olshin, one of the tenants, alleges that in June 2023 she asked the landlord to sign her HUD application. In response, the landlord said she first needs to sign a new lease for $2,200, which she alleges is "a form of extortion."

"If the Court does not intervene in this matter, multiple tenants will be unable to receive HUD assistance and will be unable to afford rent, leaving them without a residence," Attorney Ian Goldman Esq. certified.

The landlord has now responded to this allegation as follows:

With regard to the Olshin's, the parties were summoned to Rabbinical Court. Due to the overcrowding in their apartment, I was hesitant to execute the HUD application, however, with assurance from Mr. Shimon Ganz I did in fact execute the HUD application. Additionally, HUD has inspected the premises and approved the application for a market rent of $2,200.

Consequently, I dispute the Olshin's affidavits as it is clearly misrepresented.

Judge Valter Must is set to release a decision on the motion this Friday, September 8, 2023.

In this latest legal filing, the landlord again reiterated his willingness to adjudicate any further concerns in Bais Din. As previously reported here on FAA News, Attorneys Adam Pfeffer and Ian Goldman have told Judge Mark Troncone, "telling us to go to Bais Din is straight up harassment. We do not consent to go to Bais Din!"

The landlord has filed in court for 3 evictions. The hearings on those matters have been set for Monday, October 2, 2023.

Despite that this contentious litigation has been ongoing in civil court since May, and despite that this story highlights the havoc caused by the abolishment of the Rent Control Board, Township officials have been silent this entire time, with no public statements regarding the abolishment of the Rent Control Board and whether or not it will be reinstated.

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Anonymous said...

So basically Menashe the Abolisher couldn’t give a da*n about the tenants in this town which voted him into his position on the township committee. Neither can the others care less about the plight of those not financially secure enough to become homeowners. Meir and Menash will just throw them all under the bus and make believe everything is great. And how about Akerman? Has he also become a deaf mute politician?? Have these people no shame walking on our streets as we look upon them with utter disgust? Why should Lakewood’s tenant population be treated worse off then how our neighboring towns take care of theirs? It seems that all this talk about compassion for another is thrown out the window when there’s more money to be made by just ignoring their cries! How is Ray Coles going to spin this one to be blamed on the county like he does with so many of the problems that are his fault?


Anonymous said...

This is absolutely unacceptable. I am a landlord on properties outside of lakewood. I understand that landlords need to raise rent to cover inflation. But they cannot raise the rent while a family is living in an apartment beyond the rate of inflation. There needs to be a limit. If the owner has mortgages that are now double, they cannot double the rent of a current tenant. Tenants need to have rights. Within reason of course. We need to reestablish a rent control board. Rents in lakewood are already unaffordable.