Report N.J. landlords who are ‘screwing you’ during coronavirus crisis, Murphy says

Posted Apr 11, 2020

After her hours were cut at the local gym where she works, Ashley Varga knew she and her fiancé wouldn’t have enough to pay her monthly $1,500 rent payment for their Hammonton apartment.

Varga let her leasing office know they would be paying the rent late, but they didn’t offer any leniency. A few minutes later, she said, a note was slid through her mail slot informing her that April rent is past due.

“I expected them to say, ‘we’ll work with you,’ or maybe extend the deadline To get that letter, it was frightening,” she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy has a message to landlords like these in New Jersey: This behavior is “out of line.”

“This is no time to be throwing your weight around as a landlord, or anybody else for that matter,” Murphy said Saturday during his daily coronavirus press briefing in Trenton.

Tenants who are “getting screwed by their landlord” should report them to the state Division of Community Affairs, the governor said.

Murphy reiterated that landlords who are getting mortgage relief should be passing some relief along to their tenants, and has previously urged landlords to “have compassion.”

When Murphy began his press conference, he gave a shout out to David Placek, a Montclair landlord who canceled rent for his dozen tenants through June.

“David exemplifies the spirit we need to see right now of people stepping up to make sure others can come out of this emergency stronger and so we all come out of this stronger,” Murphy said.

Even if renters can’t pay their rent, they cannot be evicted or locked out of their homes for up to 60 days after the state of emergency is lifted.

But some renters and tenants organizations have argued Murphy hasn’t gone far enough. #CancelRentNJ was trending on Twitter Thursday night, with tens of thousands of tweets urging the governor to take protections a step further.

Roughly 35 percent of New Jersey residents rent their home or apartment, according to Census data.

Murphy doubled down that lease agreements are private contracts, explaining why he hasn’t taken steps for a statewide rental freeze.

“There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, if not millions of contracts between landlords and renters,” he said.

“Putting a freeze in place is, I believe, impractical in a legal matter,” he continued.

Montclair and Hoboken have passed ordinances mandating rental freezes in response to COVID-19, and Union City and Jersey City are expected to vote on similar bills soon. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a rent freeze on rent-stabilized homes.

Murphy on Saturday announced 3,599 new coronavirus cases, including 251 deaths, in New Jersey, bringing the state’s total to at least 58,151 coronavirus cases and 2,183 deaths as it enters its second month grappling with the deadly virus.

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