Housing Law Needs Small Amendment, Resident Says

Jonathan Nelson, a council candidate, suggests adding line that excempts children under 2 from anti-stacking ordinance.

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.

Michael Brancato September 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM
So, what happens when the child turns 3? That's not a solution, that's simply putting off the problem. Maybe the law should be revised to reflect the current size of Parsippany's apartment complexes or the definition of stacking should not include families with only 3 people in an apartment that size.
Monica Sclafani September 12, 2012 at 11:52 AM
All are good ideas and I would agree with you, Michael, except there has to be a cut off somewhere. Why only three people in a family; why not four? The kids take the bedroom and the parents use a sleeper sofa in the living rooming (which, by the way, is how I grew up). If the couple knows the law when renting, there shouldn't be an issue. Make the ordinance part of the lease agreement.
Harland September 12, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Jonathan Nelson - Why are you condemning Rena Plaxe for doing her job? The ordinance is very clear on what constitutes stacking, and this situation meets those requirements. Don't attack Rena - she's doing what the township pays her to do. Based on your logic (that laws are broken every day), no law should be enforced. And your "solution" is idiotic - once the child turns 3, then we're faced with the same problem we have today - families that feel they are "special" and don't have to conform to the law. Parents know 9 months in advance that they are going to have a baby. That is more than enough time to make arrangements for suitable housing. If their incapable of handling that, how will they be capable of raising a child? Mayor Barberio - you did not offer a solution that would continue to "protect the township against stacking". You offered a solution that would create such a giant loophole in the ordinance as to render it completely ineffective. Your solution would also result in extra administrative burden in managing these waivers and expose Parsippany to discrimination lawsuits. I look forward to voting against you when your current term expires.
Angelina September 12, 2012 at 01:01 PM
That gives these people 3 years to find a job, make more money, and find a new place to live. It's better than throwing a family w/a newborn out on the streets. It's always the same people on here who go against every single thing that is recommended when trying to help someone. You never agree w/ideas, the town council, or the mayor--clearly democrats. Have a heart. you people are heartless. Karma is going to bite you in the butt one day.
Jonathan Nelson September 12, 2012 at 01:26 PM
A few months ago the mayor proposed that by creating a waver process, the families I mentioned could be helped. On numerous occasions the township attorney said this proposal would just be a temporary fix until a more comprehensive law could be drawn up. This proposal was defeated by the council last month and since then more couples with even younger babies have been threatened with eviction. My suggestion, (I never mentioned any age limit) was simply a temporary fix for a couple with a six month old baby who is considered an illegal occupant according to our Township laws. That's crazy. And the Council has remained silent and offered no alternatives. Harland, regarding Rena Plaxe and the Housing Department...I feel that she could have used good judgement and common sense, two qualities important for a housing supervisor for a town this size. Things aren't always black and white.
Bob Crawford September 12, 2012 at 01:48 PM
So we have a Mayor who retreats from the issue by blaming the Town Council and a Town Attorney who continues to earn large legal fees for rendering solutions that don't stand a chance and a Town Council that has been struck mute by its inability or unwilingness to represent the best interests of Parsippany residents. And we have Jonathan Nelson who, at the very least, is presenting alternative ideas based on research that he has undertaken to try to solve a problem. Blame, incompetence and silence on the one hand and concern, initiative and common sense on the other hand. Can November 2013 come soon enough?.
Harland September 12, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Jonathan - the article mentioned you suggested "that children 2 and under be exempt from the law." Sorry if this was inaccurate - I was going by the information in the story. I disagree with your position that township employees should subjectively decide whether laws/ordinances should be enforced. That leads to unfair treatment - "I'll let my friends slide for the violation, but I'll enforce it on people who I don't know". I'm willing to bet that already happens unofficially - let's not institutionalize it as a practice. As a prior mayoral candidate and a current candidate for town council, it shows poor leadership on your part to criticize someone for doing their job correctly. I respect your right to try and change the ordinance, but town leaders should support the enforcement of ordinances that are in effect and the people who are in the <sometimes> unpopular position of having to enforce them. Let's face it, enforcing any ordinance is likely to make someone unhappy. If we don't support the people we hired to enforce these ordinances, then what motivation will they have to do their job?
Jonathan Nelson September 12, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Harland, after the current ordinance in 2006 was passed, certain parts of the new law were found to be unconstitutional and had to be removed a year later. But it's still a very sloppy ordinance that needs to be revisited sooner rather than later. I have spoken to most of the current council members and the mayor both publicly and privately and I can pretty confidently say that most are in agreement that a couple with an infant living in a one bedroom apartment is not stacking irregardless of what the law says. Laws are created to protect the fabric of society. It was never the intent of the current ordinance to go after these small family units and I'm confident that our illegal occupancy ordinance will eventually be amended. But in the meantime there are young couples with very young children that are being forced from their homes. As for Rena Plaxe...I commend public employees for enforcing unpopular laws, but never ever the unjust ones.
Brian Stanton September 12, 2012 at 03:17 PM
What the mayor had proposed was a temporary fix. The waiver idea that was proposed would have backfired and caused lawsuit after lawsuit. The township attorney along with the rest of the council and myself need to make changes to the current ordinance that are permanent solutions not temporary.
Todd M. Finchler September 12, 2012 at 03:25 PM
There is no perfect ordinance here. Trying to strike a balance between: (a) what is fair to young families with newborns and (b) protecting public safety is very difficult. And one thing for certain - legislating housing issues is one area where you do not want there to be any room for selective enforcement. Selective enforcement equals lawsuits. I agree with Mr. Nelson that the stacking ordinance did not contemplate evicting a couple living in a one-bedroom apartment who happened to welcome a newborn into the world. I appreciate that this couple anticipated the arrival for about 6-8 months, but do not believe that we, as a township, want to see such families evicted 30 days after a child is born. Otherwise, the Housing Department could simply troll the birth annoucements and send out notices to those families living in one-bedroom apartments. That would strictly enforce the existing ordinance, but be a rather inhumane way to treat residents. The problem is crafting a thoughtful, objective ordinance. It isn't easy. What happens if a couple gifts birth to triplets? You've gone from two lawful residents to five. I do not pretend to have solutions here, except to express my agreement that there should be a reasonable grace period (based on age of child, based on duration of lease or based on a number of months) before the town compels landlords to remove residents. The proposed waiver invited selective enforcement. That won't work.
Jonathan Nelson September 12, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Brian, I agree with you and believe the council did the right thing by not approving the waiver ordinance. When Councilman Carifi first ran for elected office, he said that he was for "finding solutions, not pointing fingers." I couldn't agree more and that is why I pointed out yesterday evening that the mayor and three of our five council members weren't even in office when this ordinance was first passed. However, this issue was raised over four months ago and since then, I have been approached by four different couples with very young children who are being forced from their homes. I hope we can agree that something must be done sooner rather than later.
Sabot September 12, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Jonathan, I thought you didn't like the council "rubber-stamping" the mayor? Well, in this case they didn't, so that's a small victory, no?
Mike P September 12, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Sabot - Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
clyde donovan September 12, 2012 at 10:01 PM
CNN/Money magazine ranked Parsippany, NJ the 15th best place to live in the United States because Parsippany kicks families with babies to the curb.
Mike P September 12, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Safe bet that the mayor omitted that fact when talking to the reporter.
Kevin Brancato September 13, 2012 at 01:04 PM
The so called "stacking" issue in a tiny apartment is so much baloney. The apartments are simply too small to really put multiple families in there. The real stacking is coming in the three to six bedroom homes and townhouses. Just ask anyone who lives in the condo's on Rt 46 near the Condit house where you have three or four families in a 3000 sq ft four bedroom condo with a full basement divided into multiple rooms with sheets. This is where the real stacking issue is and I never hear anyone talking about that. Someone needs to start paying attention to the real stacking issue. Try looking into that Mr Nelson if you really want to make an issue. Also the apartments are taxed as a business yet we collect their garbage. What other business in town do we pick up garbage for? Try your hand at that.
Jonathan Nelson September 13, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Mr Brancato, you make a good point about the stacking. And your argument is one of the reasons why I feel the Housing Supervisor's efforts are pointed in the wrong direction. As far as garbage pickup is concerned, I know several small business owners along Beverwyck Road who leave their garbage on the curb for the Township to pick up. Township garbage trucks will not drive onto private property, but if garbage is left on the curb on streets where they do pick up, I think they are required to pick it up whether it be a residence or business. We may not like how apartments are taxed, but several complexes have sued to have their garbage picked up and won. And the same garbage pick-up rules apply to them.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something