Writes Moran, “Imagine living in an apartment that has no heat, or is infested with rats and roaches. Would you continue paying the rent? If you stop, then you would be starting a fight that is stacked against you.”
“She says there are good and bad landlords, just as there are good and bad tenants. But the law, at this stage, favors the landlords.”
In October 2016, NJ Advance Media reported on Seton Hall University School of Law study that found that “Most tenants living without heat or hot water, with mold or rodent infestations, or in other substandard conditions are overwhelmingly unaware of their legal rights.”
Paula Franzese was the principal author of the study.
When asked by Moran about the magnitude of the problems faced by low-income renters, Franzese told Moran, “It’s immensely significant. We have data from the Census that at least 1 in 3 residents of Newark is living in poverty. And the options for residential housing are quite narrow. Many people are living hand to mouth, and are struggling to stay in affordable units, even when the rent is subsidized.”
On the number of uninhabitable apartments for which tenants failed to pay rent, Franzese responded, “What astonished us is that in 4,000 cases in Essex County we examined, in only 80 cases was the tenant using that as a defense. That figure is startling, given the likelihood that serious code violations exist in Newark and its vicinity.”
This tells the story that tenants don’t have sufficient leverage against landlords.
Landlords who receive federal and state assistance towards rent can be guilty of providing substandard living conditions. Says Franzese, “We learned that even the most egregious and neglectful landlords continue to receive rental subsidies from state and federal agencies.”
A total of 40,000 eviction actions for tenants in Essex County in one year alone.
According to Franzese, “Work on that legislative reform, with a dialogue among all the actors in this struggle to make decent housing an assurance for all. That has to include tenants, particularly those who have been left behind, and have been voiceless so far. And landlords because there are many good-faith landlords who try to do the right thing. It has to include public and private sectors of the bar, too. No one should be without a safe and sustainable roof over their heads, and all of us have a duty to help achieve that.”