Family Saved from Eviction Threat Endangered Again
Town Council bows to pressure and halts occupany law change; family with disabled child again faces losing their home.
Ranya Tawfik said she learned a tough lesson at Tuesday's Township Council agenda meeting at Town Hall: "Parsippany doesn't care about my family."
That was the reaction she shared with Patch after the council, citing citizen fears over overcrowding in apartments and single-family homes, decided not to go forward with proposed changes to Parsippany's maximum occupancy ordinance.
Council President Brian Stanton said a new means to protect residents who find themselves in violation of the law will be explored.
"That's going to take time," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight."
And that puts Tawfik, her husband and their 4-year-old disabled daughter in jeopardy, she said.
The proposal would have allowed waivers to be given to residents who find themselves running afoul of the ordinance but who clearly are not engaging in unlawful stacking so that they may remain in their homes.
The amended ordinance was set to be heard for its second reading at the Aug. 21 council meeting, but Councilman Michael dePierro asked the body to delay further consideration of the measure.
"This is something that maybe we should not do," dePierro said. "When you create an ordinance to help one family or one small group of people, but your ordinance affects the whole town, usually that's a wrong decision."
The councilman said he was convinced by resident concerns that allowing waivers would create opportunities for people to abuse the system.
"Conversations I had with all kinds of people brought up a lot of 'what ifs,'" he explained. "This could create one huge nightmare in the buildings department to administer this. So the consensus of the Township Council at this time is not to provide a waiver process."
Town Attorney John Inglesino explained that the waiver plan "was intended to be a temporary solution to provide relief to a resident who addressed the council [Tawfik]."
Mayor James Barberio, who initiated the ordinance change after speaking with Tawfik and her husband after the May 15 council meeting, defended his efforts to help the family.
"I don't think the ordinance's intent should ever be that if you live in a one-bedroom apartment and your child that turns four years old that you should get evicted," he said. "That's not stacking. I was asked to go to the Township Attorney and find a way that we could prevent that from happening. This was the way to do it—with a waiver process. The last thing I ever want to do... is to see people get evicted because they have one child that hits a certain age.
"If you kill this ordinance, that's what's going to happen."
Tawfik said the Dartmouth Gardens apartment she's lived in for 12 years was inspected by Housing Supervisor Rena Plaxe, who, according to the resident, used a measuring tape to measure the bedroom and then informed Tawfik that the room was 15 feet too small and that the family would have to move. Tawfik said she was told that her violation had to do with the size of the room, not with her daughter's age.
According to Tawfik, the Housing Department suggested another one-bedroom apartment that was more expensive and, overall, 45 square feet smaller, though the lone bedroom was large enough to satisfy the law. She said that because she presently is unemployed, she can't afford to spend any more.
"I thought this was all settled and that we were safe and that the ordinance would pass," Tawfik told Patch, tears streaming down her face. "Then today I get a call from the Zoning Department telling me to come to the meeting because even though the mayor said everything would be OK, we were in trouble again."
Tawfik said that without the ordinance change, her property manager is bound by law to evict her family.
As Inglesino said, "The clock is ticking. ... My understanding is this is pretty immediate."
"It will take time for the policymakers to come up with a better, long-term solution," he said. "The problem is that we have a law on the books. ... The apartment complex is forced to abide by the law."
"Does a husband and a wife and a child, 4 years old, constitute stacking?" asked dePierro.
"It's a clear violation of the ordinance," Inglesino replied.
Councilman Paul Carifi Jr. cited his experience working for the Morris County Sheriff's Department as his justification for supporting a more stringent anti-stacking law.
"If we grant a waiver for a particular incident," he said, "the next day, 100 people walk in with that same predicament and we have to say yes. If you grant it for one, you have to grant it for all. We need to keep it stringent or it will add to our stacking problem."
The mayor defended Tawfik's family, saying that they had done nothing involving stacking.
"I wholeheartedly support looking into this administratively, but I do not support granting waivers," said dePierro.
"I understand that there's a law on the books, but there are a lot of things that don't get enforced," said Councilman James Vigilante. "I understand that it would be inappropriate for the mayor to call the apartment complex."
Inglesino agreed that it isn't possible for the law to be enforced on a selective basis.
That view was echoed by resident Ray Vigano.
"This waiver business will open up a huge can of worms," he said. "It's too complicated to enforce. I was shocked and surprised to hear that this was driven by the concerns of one family. The intention might be good, but I don't think that's the way you run a town. The ordinance exists for a reason.
"Whether it's a 4-year-old child or an 80-year-old person, there are only so many square feet per person allowed," he said. "If someone has to move because they have twins, they have to move. ... A one bedroom apartment is not intended to be occupied by more than two people."
The council voted unanimously to pull the proposed ordinance amendment from the agenda with the understanding that more research would be done to find a way to deal with situations like Tawfik's.
However, the future for her family is unclear.
Mayor Barberio apologized to Tawfik after the meeting and told her he wouldn't stop trying to help.
She, however, was inconsolable.
"I can't afford to move, and I have to stay in Parsippany to keep my daughter in her special school," she said. "The council can help a man watch baseball games, but they can't help me.
"I dont know what's going to happen to us. I don't feel safe," Tawfik said.
"And I don't believe this town cares what happens to us."