(Article from the Asbury Park Press) The long-delayed cases against members of Lakewood Landlords Association, which involve numerous summonses for housing code violations, are moving forward in Municipal Court.
Municipal Court Judge Scott Basen on Monday ruled on about 100 summonses, and the remaining 100 should be wrapped up at the next court session, said Larry Loigman, attorney for the landlords.
About 40 landlords are involved in the municipal cases, and many had faced multiple summonses. Loigman said the landlords pleaded guilty to one violation, and all others were dismissed. The fines were $100 each for each property.
The cases against the landlords have been delayed for months as a result of a pending lawsuit in Ocean County Superior Court, where the landlords are challenging the legality of Lakewood’s quality-of-life initiative. As a result of that initiative, the township has issued hundreds of summonses for housing violations during the past year. Landlords have been cited for overcrowding, failure to obtain certificates of occupancy and poor maintenance. Fines have reached as high as $700. The landlords have argued that the crackdown is often misdirected. If a tenant violates the terms of a lease, and thus a local ordinance, the landlord should not be held responsible, landlords say.
The landlords filed the lawsuit last summer against the township, asserting that local ordinances governing building code enforcement were “unconstitutionally vague.”
Now, the landlords and the township are near a settlement on the lawsuit pending in Superior Court.
“We’re trying to lay out procedures to get the rental properties up to the level we want them to be and to increase communication,” said Ed Mack, director of the inspections department.
Although the exact settlement terms are still being discussed, Mack and Loigman said the township will make an effort to notify the landlord when an inspection is to be conducted.
Other elements of the pending settlement are:
If violations are found, a reasonable period to fix the problems will be provided before summonses are issued.
When a violation is caused by tenants rather than the landlord, summonses will be issued to the tenants.
Regarding overcrowding, the landlord will file the appropriate complaint for eviction if voluntary compliance fails.
Mack said the settlement is an effort to increase communication with property owners and more efficiently get homes in compliance.
“This does not mean we will not continue to pursue this,” he said.