There’s lots to love about living in Hoboken, from the incredible variety of restaurants to the priceless views of Manhattan. But lately (let’s be honest, for the last decade or more — but especially in the last year), we’ve been hearing from Hoboken Girl readers who are struggling with the cost of living in the area — specifically because of the increasing cost of housing. Many have asked in our Facebook group about how high a landlord can raise the rent in one year. To help out, we took a look at renter’s rights, responsibilities, and options when it comes to a rent increase.
Disclaimer: This article is meant to help Hoboken neighbors with resources and information about rent increases and does not substitute for legal advice. Hoboken Girl encourages residents to use local resources or to contact an attorney or other professionals for more help.
What We’re Hearing
We’ve heard from locals that rent increases of 10, 20, and even 30% are being announced in letters from landlords. It’s happening to newer tenants and more long-term residents, people in larger and smaller buildings, and the end result is many people having to make hard choices about whether to stay in Hoboken or move to a more affordable area. The reality is that many of these tenants fall into an unfortunate spot where this type of rent increase is lawful.
In New Jersey, multi-family buildings (four or more units) built after 1987 are not subject to rent control for 30 years after their construction. Landlords are required to notify tenants of this in writing, either in the lease or in an addendum to the lease.
One tenant Hoboken Girl spoke to has lived in her building since 2018, and this year’s renewal increase was $900 a month.
“It has never been this high, even during Covid when vacancies were higher,” she said. Another tenant in a different building is considering signing a lease for a second year, and the increase from Year 1 to Year 2 was 29%. “This is incredibly frustrating,” she said.
Both of these tenants said that they were now considering moving out of Hoboken because of housing affordability.
Whether you live in a charming brownstone or a shiny highrise, there are rights and responsibilities that govern both tenants and landlords. It’s important to know where *your* lease exists in the spectrum of buildings and leases. The more you know about your particular lease and the building you rent in, the better equipped you will be to navigate a lease renewal.
The basic facts of a lease renewal are that it is a written notice from the landlord to the tenant — informing them of any rental increase should the tenant choose to re-sign the lease. The notice must be given at least 30 days before the end of the lease unless otherwise specified in the lease.
But what amount of an increase is appropriate, and what are a renter’s options if the increase feels like it’s too much?
Buildings Built Before 1987
For neighbors who live in pre-1987 buildings, there are rules limiting how much a landlord can increase the rent. Hoboken Municipal Rent Control Ordinance, Chapter 155 limits the rent increase to the Consumer Price Index, which is an amount set by the federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The current CPI for rent increases starting in March 2022 is 4.4%. Landlords are also limited to raising the rent to once every 12 months.
Renters who suspect that their rent has been unlawfully or inaccurately increased can contact the Hoboken Rent Stabilization and Leveling Office. This office works with both tenants and landlords to accurately price rentals, and figure out any back rent or refunds owed. This office can pull documents that directly deal with each building in Hoboken and any other arrangements the owner or builder may have made with the city.
Buildings Built After 1987
For neighbors who live in newer buildings, despite murky waters, there are still avenues to relief from increased rent.
To start, it never hurts to ask. Maybe there’s an incentive being offered to new tenants that you could take advantage of. Maybe you can sign a longer lease term to get a lower monthly rent. See if the landlord is willing to work on finding a middle ground. Most landlords would rather keep a tenant in place than go through the hassle of finding a new one, even if that means getting a bit less in rent per month.
The Hoboken Rent Stabilization and Leveling Office can look up whether the building has a waiver that does allow rents to be controlled. There are exceptions to every rule, and that includes laws about rent control. It’s worth a call here to understand more about what, if any, relationship the building’s ownership has with the city. Suzanne Hetman, who we spoke with via phone, works at this office, said that this winter she has been getting tons of calls from Hobokenites looking for answers. The office has information on Hoboken rents and monthly CPI going back to 1987.
Second, what counts as ‘too much’ of an increase? The law is less than crystal clear on this: “The increase in rent must not be unconscionable; it must not be so unreasonable as to shock the conscience of a fair and honest person and must comply with any municipal ordinances governing rent increases.”
It seems straightforward enough. But tenants will have to decide if it’s worth their time and energy to pursue further action. Tenants don’t have unlimited time to decide whether to sign the lease renewal, and anything involving the stability of one’s living situation has a special level of urgency. The minimum notice of a rent increase is 30 days before the end of the lease.
That means a tenant has 30 days to evaluate the offer, see what else is available on the rental market, apply, and make all of the moving parts of a move happen should he or she choose to move out.
State of Emergency
All of this is happening with the pandemic in the background. In the spring of 2020, the City approved a moratorium on rent increases effective April 1, 2020, in response to the State of Emergency declared March 1, 2020.
The moratorium includes other typical fees such as security deposits, pet rent, parking, and amenity fees in the type of costs that can be increased during this time. Further, at the end of the State of Emergency, landlords are limited to what increases can be made – they cannot increase an amount that would be ‘catching up’ to current rates, or what the rent would have been with subsequent increases during the emergency declaration. However, these protections only apply to tenants in rent-controlled buildings.
See More: Here’s What $3100 Can Get You in Hoboken
The Tenant Advocate
Hoboken Girl spoke with Andrew Sobel, Hoboken’s Tenant Advocate. The Tenant Advocate is an attorney retained by the city, to whom residents can go with legal questions about housing matters. Andrew has been practicing landlord/tenant law for 15 years and has been the Hoboken Tenant Advocate for six years. He said his office has been getting many calls from tenants in non-rent controlled buildings getting rent increases that they are unhappy with. “Covid was tough and the market suffered. Now, things are changing and the market has strengthened,” he said. “It looks like landlords are trying to make up for the money they couldn’t charge during the pandemic, or make up for any losses they suffered during the pandemic. It’s their right to do it, but the law provides that it has to be a ‘conscionable’ rent increase.”
There it is again – the idea of conscionability. Andrew said, “There is no black letter law as to what is considered an unconscionable rent increase. It is the judge’s determination.” He went on to point out that the courts are incredibly backed up right now, so if a tenant were to pursue legal action against a landlord, it could be some time before the matter is heard. In a memo to Hoboken Girl, Andrew said that “The definition of unconscionable is fact sensitive and requires the Court to make a legal analysis based on several factors.” The memo went on to point out that “The landlord has the burden of proving that the increase in rent is not unconscionable.”
Andrew encouraged tenants to seek solutions, and in his memo pointed out that “a landlord of an exempt property is not left unchecked.” Translation: just because your building is not rent-controlled doesn’t mean that there are no remedies. He went on to say that tenants should contact his office for support. “My office can help tenants see what other alternatives are out there. That may be trying to work with the landlord to get a negotiated rent amount. We can help tenants with how to approach that type of conversation and other resources.” However, he noted that sometimes the only option is to move out of the unit.
All of the tenants we spoke to expressed how much they love living in Hoboken and how frustrated they are with the state of the housing market. One tenant contrasted the rent increases with the decrease in building security she has observed.
“They want us to pay more in rent while our packages are getting stolen, strangers are walking through the building, and the security cameras never work,” she said.
Another tenant pondered the long-term vision of city leaders. “How can they be asking us to vote on this multi-million dollar high school project when the middle class and people who would want to raise families here can’t afford it? I don’t see what the endgame is.”
Hoboken Girl has reached out to the Mayor and City Council for comment and has not heard back at this time of publication.
City of Hoboken Resources
Office of the Tenant Advocate – Residents can make an appointment to speak with Hoboken’s tenant advocate. These slots book up quickly. The current tenant advocate, Andrew Sobel, can be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at 201-603-3697.
Office of Rent Leveling and Stabilization – Both owners and tenants can call Hoboken’s Rent Leveling Office with questions about the current rent, potential increases, or the rental history of a unit or building.
Contact your councilperson with questions, or seek out support from local organizations that assist owners and/or tenants.
State of New Jersey Resources
Consult the Truth in Renting Booklet published by The State of New Jersey to assist both tenants and owners.