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Senate expected to vote on bill to lift rent control restrictions on senior housing

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A bill that would lift a 26-year-old restriction on rent controls for senior housing is raising alarm within the apartment industry, but one of its top sponsors said it will simply bring age-restricted developments in line with other multifamily properties.

The measure, which was approved by the Assembly last week and was scheduled for a vote in the Senate this afternoon, would reverse a policy that exempted senior housing projects from municipal rent controls if they were built after 1987. The law was enacted at the time as a way to spur new multifamily development in New Jersey.

But the New Jersey Apartment Association has blasted the new bill as a measure that would stifle new development and financing of age-restricted multifamily properties. Conor Fennessy, the association's vice president for government affairs, said the law would make New Jersey "the outlier of the outliers" as one of only four states that would subject new construction to local rent control.

"If this is an affordable housing question, there are programs out there and mechanisms available to help provide subsidies, not only for the renter, but also for the developer," Fennessy said. "But this bill affects privately financed, privately constructed apartments."

But bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), said the bill simply requires landlords to get municipal approval if they're seeking a rent increase above the ceiling that has already been established by the governing body.

"That's reasonable. I'm a business owner — I get it," he said, referring to rent hikes within the town's established ceiling. "But we want to protect seniors from extraordinary or unreasonable rent increases that don't have merit."

Only about 100 of the state's more than 500 municipalities have rent control ordinances. Vitale said only those towns would be affected by the legislation, if they chose to begin enforcing rent control on new senior housing, and he believes the law would mainly affect Woodbridge and Union Township, which have had senior complexes built after 1987.

Previous attempts to move the bill through full Legislature in recent years have failed, but advocates on both sides say it has a chance to reach Gov. Chris Christie's desk this year.

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