In order to fully implement the mayor’s neighborhood stabilization program which calls for the liquidation of abandoned and neglected properties, the city is in the process of awarding a contract to a Rochelle Park based law firm to handle legal issues that may arise out of the program.
The city sought legal services for the program, receiving four prices from four different firms. The lowest was Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader which agreed to handle each property through the court process for $1,100.
Dipisa & Lago of Hasbrouck Heights submitted the second lowest price at $1,300 per property; Ehrlich, Petriello, Gudin & Plaza of Newark wanted $1,650 per property; while the highest was Woodland Park based Damico, Del Sardo & Montanari which wanted $6,900 per property.
The city is seeking to go with the lowest price. The firm will handle preliminary pre-takeover paperwork as well as handle legal challenges from impacted property owners.
Through the program the city intends to take neglectful property owners to court, go through a summary proceeding, and ultimately obtain ownership rights over the properties.
“We’re going to be taking properties away from people,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, during Wednesday’s council deliberations.
“That’s an extreme statement,” remarked law director Domenick Stampone. The director said the city is not attempting to enter the real estate holding business.
“The purpose of the ordinance [the neighborhood stabilization program] is to encourage and essentially force property owners to take care of their properties,” said Stampone. The director said that the city already has the power to take over property through eminent domain; however, when government assumes control of property through eminent domain, it is required to pay fair market value of that property, in this case that is not so.
“Once the property has met the criteria as specified in the abandoned properties ordinance, the city will move to gain control of that property to convey it to developers to put it back on the tax rolls so we can increase ratable,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. “If the owner objects, we need legal representation, and that’s what this resolution does.”
Morris said the law firm’s services will allow the city to take possession of blighted properties through the already outlined process in the abandoned properties ordinance. “At the end of the process, we’re taking somebody’s property away,” reiterated Tavarez.
“We’re taking property. It’s only someone’s property, if they can identify themselves as owner of the property,” Morris. “Remember, you still have the right to cure.”
Stampone listed some of the reasons that may lead the city into commencing legal actions against a property. He said a property owner delinquent on his tax bills will have his property entered into the list of abandoned properties which contains approximately 1,200 properties.
“You can be on the list for missing one tax payment,” said Stampone.
“One tax payment?” asked Tavarez. “I thought we’re focusing on properties that are a problem not someone who missed a payment.”
Council members were surprised to hear that one missed tax payment could result in a property making the abandoned list. Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, protested stating the city has many families, who might not be paying mortgages and consequently property taxes, and they simply do not deserve to have their property forcibly separated from them.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, said the city needs to focus on abandoned properties that have been in that state for decades. She mentioned properties in her ward that have remained vacant for decades.
“I don’t recall the missed payment being in there,” said Morris, requesting a copy of the abandoned properties ordinance.
“Not paying your taxes should not put you in the abandoned properties list,” said Tavarez. “It should be abandoned properties councilwoman Cotton is talking about. If you have someone with tax issues we already have a process for that which is the tax sales.”
With the liabilities and additional obligations the city is likely to be burdened with after securing ownership over even half of the properties on the list, the program’s cost is likely to increase. Morris called on the administration to hold a serious discussion to plan out the total cost of the program.
We need this program to pay for itself, said Morris.