By JOHN T. WARD
Following a pattern reported on by redbankgreen back in June, the owner of the Colony House apartments has continued to illegally raise rents on tenants, some of whom may be afraid to pursue legal recourse, members of the Red Bank Rent Leveling Board said Thursday.
At their monthly meeting in a nearly empty council chambers, board members said that about eight residents had filed formal complaints in recent months alleging that the landlord, Park Ridge LLC of Lakewood, had rescinded incentive discounts given to new tenants since 2009, and then imposed cost-of-living improvements on the new base rent.
Only the cost-of-living adjustments are permitted under the borough rent ordinance, said board attorney Gene Anthony.
“We had three complaints in September alone,” said board chairman Vincent Light.
Colony House resident Brenda Dellutri, who lives on the first floor of the eight-story red brick structure with her 81-year-old mother, appeared at the meeting at the behest of a neighbor to ask about her legal options after Park Ridge boosted her rent by $50 a month.
“If you feel you’ve had an illegal increase, you should file a complaint with the board,” Anthony told her. “There’s been quite a few.”
Not all of the complaints wind up getting aired out, however, as tenants often fail to appear at the hearings. And board members are convinced that there are tenants afraid of retaliation who keep quiet.
Dellutri told the board she was among them, concerned about being displaced with an elderly mother to care for.
“Can he evict me?” she asked.
“Absolutely not,” Anthony replied.
The landlord could, in fact, face a criminal charge for violating a tenant’s right to challenge the increase and to inform other tenants, Light told her.
A call to Park Ridge’s office was not immediately returned Friday morning.
Board members say they don’t know who runs the building. When there are complaints heard by the board, the same man always appears, but because he’s never been sworn to testify, board members don’t know his name.
“He humbly accepts our findings” but doesn’t curtail the practice, Anthony said. “He always has a justification, and says he’ll come back at the next meeting with an accountant, but doesn’t.”
The spate of complaints follows a failed attempt by the building owner to convert the structure to $500,000-and-up condos, an effort that was derailed in 2008 when the zoning board found the project would have exacerbated a severe lack of available parking. An appeal of the ruling was upheld by a state Superior Court and, last February, a state Appeals Court.
Anthony said the most effective action tenants can take is to file complaints. A tenant who wins is entitled to collect reimbursement for unwarranted payments going back a year from the date of a complaint.
“If every single tenant affected by this got a reimbursement, I think that would would be enough,” he said. “That would get his attention.”