A freezing night with snow piled up outside finds a Jersey City couple and their kids shivering inside their apartment, wrapped up in their winter togs and keeping the stove lit because the heat doesn’t work. 

At the instigation of Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey, the city’s governing body is taking steps to put the heat on recalcitrant landlords by toughening enforcement of the city’s property maintenance code.

To that end, the City Council voted Wednesday to introduce an ordinance designed to expedite “abatement of conditions affecting health and safety within rental dwellings.”

A public hearing on the ordinance, which proposes numerous changes to the code, is scheduled for next month.

Assuming the changes are adopted, if a landlord fails to deal with a situation threatening the health or safety of an apartment’s occupants, the city’s director of code compliance “shall employ the necessary labor and materials to perform the required work as expeditiously as possible.”

“Costs incurred in the performance of emergency work shall be paid by the city upon approval by the director of the Department of Housing and Economic Development and Finance,” as prescribed by the amended law. With concurrence by the City Council, the city would recover any money spent by placing a lien on the landlord’s properties.

The landlord would have 20 days to appeal the city’s action on the grounds that “the condition existing on the premises did not constitute an immediate threat to the health and safety of the occupants.”

If, in the judgment of the director of code compliance, a code violation is uncovered which “constitutes a nuisance,” the city could prosecute the responsible parties “without notice.” 

For any third violation by an “owner, manager, or occupant” in the same premises within the same year, the city could take the offending party to court without notice.

At this past Monday’s caucus, Prinz-Arey explained that the proposed amendments were triggered in part by complaints about “heat issues” her office had received from tenants in the same building in which the owner claimed he “couldn’t fix” the problem. Further investigation by city agents determined that the problem could be remedied, however, according to Prinz-Arey.

In such instances, she said, “We wanted a mechanism where the city could step in especially now where we’re coming into the winter months.”

Ward F Councilmember Frank Gilmore agreed that many tenants were in need of a weapon to prod some landlords into action. To some extent, he said, the revised law “takes tenants — particularly those getting (federal) Section 8 rent subsidies — off the hook from living in hazardous situations,” such as leaks in the ceiling.

The new ordinance could go further to push landlords — especially those who own multiple properties — to comply with building codes, Gilmore said, but for now, “it’s a step in the right direction.”

Landlords will be able to have their say at next month’s public hearing on the ordinance.

On the transportation front, the council got kudos from bicyclists Ryan Williams and Emmanuelle Morgen for updating the city’s traffic code to make conditions safer for bikers.

One ordinance approved by the council prohibits parking on both sides of Newark Avenue, from Chestnut Avenue to Brunswick Street; a companion ordinance prohibits parking on the west side of Marin Boulevard from 800 feet north of 18th Street to the Hoboken City Line, allowing the city “to implement striping redesign for connectivity and safety improvements.” 

Williams called each set of revised parking rules “critical missing links” in the city’s system of bike paths. Morgen thanked the city for striping a path under the 18th Street overpass. She said it would help protect bikers en route to Hoboken.

As expected, the council introduced an ordinance calling for adoption of the Sixth Street Embankment Redevelopment Plan — up for public hearing next month — but did not say how close the city is to settling longstanding litigation holding up the plan.

Another ordinance offered deals with limiting the number of recreational cannabis Class 5 retail licenses to be issued. The impetus for the ordinance, according to the legislation itself, was the council’s desire “to promote a successful and efficient cannabis industry in Jersey City.” Should it pass, no more than 55 licenses would be issued. Only Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano dissented.

Allowing “pot places” in Jersey City is “a disgrace and shame,” he said. 

To date, according to John Metro, city business administrator, there have already been 55 applications for cannabis licenses, 23 of which have been approved by the city’s Cannabis Control Board, subject to further sanctions by the City Council and the state Cannabis Regulatory Board.

Of the 23, Metro said 19 were owned by minorities, women, or disabled veterans. 

By a vote of 7-1, with Council President Joyce Watterman absent, the council awarded a one-year contract for $54,100 to Davey Resource Group Inc., of Kent, Ohio, to “perform an inventory of the city’s trees and to revise the city’s tree management plan.”  The council had hired Davey previously to begin such an effort, an engagement that resulted in Davey’s inventorying roughly 13,000 of the city’s trees (“a significant but partial” number).

Ward C Councilmember Yousef Saleh voted against the award, saying he disagreed with the firm’s request to “limit DRG’s indemnity obligation to a period of one year following the completion of the project (and) not make DRG liable for consequential damages.”  

Acting at the behest of Ward E Councilmember James Solomon, the governing body paid tribute to the nonprofit Art Fair 14C and its founder/executive director Robinson Holloway “for their contribution to Jersey City’s dynamic artist community and for their role in developing and spotlighting (the city’s) local artistic talent.”

In particular, the resolution citing their accomplishments notes that Art Fair 14C “provides affordable subsidized spaces” for showcasing local visual artists, thereby “strengthening and inspiring careers in artistry.”

Ron Leir

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...