RENT BOARD TABLES CPI DISCUSSION

rent-board-102711Two tenants and two reporters turned out for Thursday night’s monthly meeting of the Red Bank rent board. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

No landlords appeared from the cold rain outside, and only two tenants showed up, one of them to discuss an unrelated matter. Four members of the eight-member board were absent.

But paltry attendance wasn’t the reason Red Bank’s Rent Leveling Board didn’t get far with its review of the borough rent ordinance, which links annual increases to the Consumer Price Index, the nation’s go-to gauge of inflation.

No one on the board knew why the law, which dates to 1978, was structured to permit rent increases of 60 percent of the CPI rise when a tenant pays for heat, and 80 percent when the landlord does.

“I’m on the board 20 years, and I’m not sure of the reason for it,” said board attorney Gene Anthony. “It has never been addressed by this board, and no landlord has ever complained about it, either.

The board decided to have Anthony do some research into the history of the ordinance.

The review was requested by Mayor Pasquale Menna and the town council after landlords appeared recently before the governing body asking to be freed of the limitations, said board Chairman Vincent Light.

Discussion of Anthony’s findings isn’t expected before the board meets in January. The end result will be passed up to the council with a recommendation, said Light.

Among the questions: what was the rationale for the 60-80 formula? No one currently on the board knew. Menna, who began his political career as a tenants’ rights activist some 30 years ago, was not present, and Light said he hadn’t had a chance to discuss the question with Menna.

The council’s liaison to the board, Kathleen Horgan, who is running for state Assembly, was among the missing.

Tenant John Granahan of Wallace Street wanted to board to know he was concerned about the effect of raising or removing the cap on seniors like himself who live on fixed incomes, especially in light of articles he’d read recently saying that the country needs “a healthy dose of inflation.”

“I was really hoping to have more public comment,” Light said later, scanning the room.

Anthony said landlords who are feeling squeezed can apply to the board for hardship waivers, “but they don’t like that” but they have to open their books for inspection.

Light said the board has “no idea” how many renters are covered by the ordinance, which applies to tenants of buildings with three or more rental units.