Union City, NJ Expands Its Power to Require Landlords to Make Repairs

On September 9, 2019, changes to Union City Municipal Code §329-32 “Security Funds” became effective. These changes expand the power of the City to require landlords (of buildings with four units or more) to make repairs or improvements to a property with “security funds.” The “security funds” are mandatory transfers of money from a landlord to Union City ostensibly to abate “emergency conditions.” Landlords in Union City, NJ should be aware of the “emergency conditions” which trigger the “security funds” requirement. Today’s requirements are far more expansive than prior law.

329-33 “Depositing of Funds” of the Union City Municipal Code allows the City to require that a landlord deposit money (the amount is based on building size) with the City for the “repair, maintenance, supply or replacement” of “items” “necessary to correct, eliminate or alleviate an emergency condition.” Before September 9, 2019, “emergency conditions” were limited to:

(a) lack of adequate ventilation or light;

(b) lack of properly function sanitary facilities;

(c) lack of adequate and health water;

(d) hazardous structural, mechanical or electrical defects and

(e) lack of heating during specified days and times.

On July 23, 2019, Union City expanded these 5 categories of “emergency conditions” to include a 6th. The 6th category is so general as to require “security funds” with nearly any complaint by a tenant to the City. Subsection (f) adds: “any outstanding health, building or maintenance code violation which would adversely affect health, safety or welfare…” to the list of emergency conditions. The expansiveness of this new law is obvious in its terms.

The ordinance makes “any” violation of the “health, building or maintenance” a requirement for a security deposit. The only limiting language is whether these violations “would” affect health safety and welfare. “Any” violation of the “health, building or maintenance” code means “any” violation of thousands of different laws.

For example, the benignly labeled “maintenance” code is, in reality, the International Property Maintenance Code. This code contains over 700 discrete sections. On top of these 700 sections, the IPMC references 26 other bodies of law including the International Building Code, International Fire Code and National Electric Code. The first 8 words of subsection (f) make any violation of thousands of applicable codes an “emergency condition” as long as they “would” affect health, safety or welfare.

“Would” means the “imagined event or situation” of a health, safety of welfare effect. With this, subsection (f) can be used to require improvements far beyond the original intent §329-32. Consider: An aged refrigerator, otherwise operating and with no sign of defect “would” effect health if it unexpectedly breaks (all appliances will eventually break). The existence of an old refrigerator is now an “emergency condition” which requires “security funds” if not replaced.

Of course, landlords in Union City, NJ should take care to maintain their property in healthiest and safest condition. But, the recent expansion of §329-32 is ripe for abuse by tenants and municipal officials. In addition to caring for a building, landlords should also document any damage or deterioration caused by tenant (and guest) behavior or neglect. Municipal citations should be immediately addressed.

Offit Kurman, P.A., maintains a broad-based landlord and property owner representation practice. In New Jersey, Offit Kurman represents landlords and property managers in maximizing return, resolving disputes and avoiding unnecessary and costly delays.  The Firm’s New Jersey geographic practice area includes: Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Hudson County, Newark, Essex County, Woodbridge, Middlesex County, Paterson, Passaic County, Hackensack, Bergen County and other points across New Jersey.

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