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Rent control battle moves to Neptune as group aims to reverse regulation

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A battle over a new rent control ordinance is brewing in Neptune Township, where a group of landlords is pushing for a referendum to have the regulation thrown out.

The group — the Neptune Committee to Repeal Rent Control — has submitted a petition to the township committee asking for a ballot question about the new measure in the November election. The petition included some 1,400 signatures, though the group has no indication thus far that the governing body will agree to the referendum.

The committee submitted its petition three weeks after the township committee adopted the ordinance, which says landlords must base rent hikes on the regional consumer price index.

But Ron Simoncini, who is coordinating the group’s campaign, said the move was “an ineffective solution whose consequences are devastating” to issues of housing affordability, adding that the township only sought input from tenants.

He said the governing body is not legally required to place a referendum question on the Nov. 4 ballot, and township clerk Rick Cuttrell said no new action has been taken since the petition was submitted to the committee.

Still, township officials already seem to be reexamining the ordinance. At its Sept. 23 meeting, the township committee is slated to vote on an amendment that will exempt apartment buildings with two to four units.

“I’m trying to urgently reverse this thing — and like any elected body, I don’t think they want to be so quick to reverse something they just did,” said Simoncini, president of Secaucus-based Axiom Communications. “But I also think they have to admit that they did not give full consideration to the property owner point of view.”

Mayor Eric Houghtaling did not immediately return requests for comment early this afternoon, but told the Asbury Park Press this week that opponents were overstating the effects of the ordinance.

“It sounds like they’re upset we didn’t get their permission to do this,” Houghtaling told the newspaper. “We don’t need their permission to do this.”

Simoncini also said timing was critical because with rent control, “once it gets its place, the more established it is, the harder it is to get rid of.”

Only about 100 of the state’s more than 500 municipalities have rent control ordinances, though battles like in Neptune are not uncommon these days. This summer, the New Jersey Apartment Association lobbied against state legislation that would have lifted 25-year-old restrictions on rent control for senior housing. The measure was effectively killed earlier this week was when it was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.

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