The Landlord Responsibility Ordinance as introduced calls for fines and the possible revocation of any landlord whose tenants are found to be in violation three times within 18 months.
Tenants violating the ordinance face fines of between $100 and $1,500, possible time in Atlantic County jail and community service.
Additionally, landlords who fail to register or maintain registration can be fined between $100 and $1,500 for each violation, and each rental unit counts as a separate entity.
“The point is to put some responsibility on the landlord,” Township Solicitor Mike Fitzgerald said. “If they’re in the process of evicting the tenant or are showing they are handling the situation, they’re not liable.”
Initially, the ordinance called for the landlord’s license to be revoked after three violations in one year, but Township Manager Arch Liston worried landlords renting out to college students might bide their time while waiting for the year to expire and new tenants to come in.
“My problem with the 1-2-3 step approach is the first step is a warning, the second time is a double secret probation, and those tenants are going to be gone soon anyway,” Liston said. “We have to get them in on the second time. We can’t just wait for the problem to go away.”
The time span was modified to 18 months so that landlords would still be held accountable when selecting new tenants. The general thinking was that if a landlord already has two complaints, they may be more diligent in selecting new tenants in an effort to avoid a third violation.
The prosecutor would have to prove the landlord knew there was an issue and intentionally did nothing to address it.
Council also realized this isn’t just an issue with college students, and that decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
“A noise complaint is one thing, but if you have 100 people at a party, that’s something different,” Councilman Jim Gorman said.
“You could have one person throwing a party for their kids in the backyard and get hit with a noise violation for strike one, and then have a Super Bowl party and get hit with strike two,” Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola said. “There should be some discretion.”
Fitzgerald agreed there had to be a real disturbance made to the neighborhood, and that severity would be left up to the township. All violations of this ordinance would have to be filed by the township, he said.
Mayor Don Purdy pointed out that since discussion of this issue began back in September, more residents have approached council members with more problems.
“There are more out there than we realize,” Purdy said.
“Some of it is repetitive, too,” Fitzgerald said.
Council will hold a public hearing on this ordinance at its Nov. 12 meeting.