Jersey City Councilman James Solomon is pledging to fight a landlord-backed lawsuit that seeks to overturn the city’s new “right-to-counsel” law.
Under two ordinances passed unanimously in June, the city established a program to provide free access to legal services for Jersey City residents in landlord-tenant court.
Brought by the Jersey City Property Owners’ Association, the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, asks the court to void both ordinances.
Said Solomon, “You want to sue your way out of your responsibilities to tenants, Jersey City residents, and the city that allowed you to make the profits you’re using to fund this suit against us? You want to waste your time and money on this frivolous lawsuit? Fine. See you in court.”
The right-to-counsel law was backed by Mayor Fulop and supported by a coalition of over 100 pastors, faith leaders, and community advocates across Jersey City. Supporters cited New York City’s experience where, they claimed, a similar law helped to reduce evictions by almost 40 percent.
Under the law, tenants with a household income not greater than 80 percent of the current area median annual income (currently $71,662) would be eligible. The program would be funded through fees imposed on both new residential and non-residential construction projects and be rolled out in 2026.
The landlord group argues that unlike the right-to-counsel in a criminal matter, “a tenant’s landlord-tenant relationship is not a fundamental right that due process or equal protection require a right to counsel. Rather, it is a contractual right between two private parties.”
Moreover, say the landlords, the state’s “Just Cause Eviction Act” preempts the Jersey City ordinances. “The Act protects tenants from a wrongful eviction, creates a mechanism for a jury trial, provides landlords with limited rights to seek removal of tenants through judicial process and provides remedies for tenants who are wrongfully evicted.”
The landlords further argue that the ordinance exceeds the city’s taxing authority and violate both the federal and state equal protection guarantees prohibit the conferring of “a free private benefit for a class of citizens to the detriment of other classes of citizens.”