The occupancy law controversy reared its head again at Tuesday's Township Council agenda meeting at the municipal building.
Parsippany resident Jonathan Nelson, who is running for council in the November election, presented the governing body with a suggestion that, if taken seriously and adopted, could help families who run afoul of the ordinance.
"Instead of taking a sledgehammer approach and creating waivers, as was tried last month, why can’t the council just amend the ordinance to exclude a child under a certain age?" he asked, suggesting that children 2 and under be exempt from the law (the age of 2, the benchmark used in the state occupancy law, was used merely as a nonspecific example). "We’re talking about adding one sentence to an already existing ordinance."
The topic has been grist for the government mill since May. That's when a local couple—whose Dartmouth Village landlord knew they had a young child, the family told Patch—received a notice that they had to vacate their one-bedroom apartment because of the town's occupancy law.
The couple was found to be in violation of the existing ordinance after Housing Supervisor Rena Plaxe personally measured their bedroom—in which their disabled 4-year-old did not sleep—and said it was 15 feet too short.
Mayor James Barberio told the family that he would take action to right a move he said was not in the residents' or the town's best interests. He offered an ordinance amendment to allow waivers for young families in similar straits.
But Barberio's proposal was killed at the Aug. 14 council meeting. Councilman Michael dePierro led the charge against the plan, citing town residents who opposed allowing waivers for any reason. His council colleagues agreed and voted to scuttle the amendment—which put the Dartmouth Village couple at risk again.
Shortly thereafter, word came that other families in one-bedroom units, including a Colonial Heights couple with a 6-month-old baby, had received notices to vacate their apartments.
Barberio said the blame belongs to the council, adding that he did what he could to help families who find themselves receiving eviction notices.
"At my direction, the township attorney prepared an ordinance that would have provided fair relief for [residents] while also protecting the township against stacking," he said. "The Council refused to introduce the ordinance for reasons they stated in public session. Any change in the law must necessarily be adopted by ordinance approved by the Township Council. I therefore respectfully suggest that you take this matter up with them."
Patch made requests for comment to all the council members; to this date, none have responded.
And all of them (with the exception of an absent dePierro) remained silent when, during the meeting's public comment portion, Nelson offered a new idea for amending the occupancy law.
Nelson added that he strongly opposes stacking, but does not see a young family with a baby as a stacking situation. Then he brought up another law.
"There is a New Jersey law on the books, Chapter 39:4-85. I break that law every day and I’m sure every single person in the room violates it as well," he said. "The state statute reads in part that the driver of an overtaking motor vehicle not within a business or residence district shall give audible warning with his horn before passing or attempting to pass a vehicle going in the same direction.
"It’s the law. But just because it’s the law doesn’t make it a good law or alaw that should be enforced."
Nelson then turned his attention to Rena Plaxe, whom he described as "an overly-zealous housing supervisor ... forcing young couples with 6-month-old babies out of their homes."
"I hope the police make sure to give this housing supervisor a ticket for not blowing her own horn next time she’s in her car driving to an apartment inspection," he said. "I also hope the mayor hires a new housing supervisor."
Nelson added that "state statute requires landlords and townships to notify displaced tenants that relocation assistance is available next time Rena Plaxe kicks another young couple and their baby to the curb."
The issue is likely to appear again, at least during public comment, when the council gathers for its business meeting next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.