For the 1,400 members of the New Jersey Apartment Association in Atlantic City last week for their annual conference, the main issue facing owners and managers of apartments was unchanged: overregulation.
But a prominent regulatory dispute had played out in nearby Hamilton Township last year, and now there is hope that the state Legislature will provide relief from perhaps the most straightforward regulatory excess - duplication of registrations and inspections.
Jean Maddalon, executive director of the association, said New Jersey is a very regulated state, with not just registrations and inspections required by the state Department of Community Affairs, but also at the local level.
"Each municipality having its own set of rules is a challenge for everybody," she said.
That challenge last year took the form of a new $100-per-unit annual charge in Hamilton Township, whose Township Committee wanted to fund its own inspections and registrations to address allegedly poor conditions of some individually operated units.
Kathryn Goldenberg, who manages the Hamilton Greene apartment complex in the township for the Scully Co., said she was shocked to suddenly get a bill from the township for $41,600 largely to do what the state already does for its 416 units.
"It's completely unfair and who suffers? The residents do. We can't just absorb all the costs," said Goldenberg, of Egg Harbor Township.
After talks with the township failed to produce an exemption for the handful of large apartment complexes affected, two lawsuits were filed in state Superior Court seeking to overturn the ordinance, claiming the restrictions were arbitrary, discriminatory and a financial burden.
In early August, the Hamilton Township Committee changed the ordinance to allow state DCA inspections of large apartment complexes to satisfy the local law's requirement, exempting them from the onerous annual fee per unit.
Karen Mette, regional manager for the Scully Co., based in Jenkintown, Pa., said existing township laws were already sufficient to address unknown and problematic renters of individual units.
"If they are truly worried about maintenance and upkeep, which is what they were saying, you do not need this extra inspection," said Mette, of Fort Washington, Pa. "You can enforce the rules already on the books."
Maddalon said the association welcomed the Christie administration's efforts to reduce regulatory redundancies.
"The administration has been very helpful, and we're optimistic that some of the items mentioned in its red-tape report will happen and some of the duplications will disappear," she said.
The association is supporting a pair of bills - S-2114 and A-3317 - in the Legislature that would eliminate duplication and redundancy in the registration of many apartment complexes.
"That would benefit us and also the residents," she said. "Any costs added onto the owner will ultimately get passed down to the renters. You have to make money on your business."
Besides working on such issues, the association's 24th annual Conference and Expo in the Convention Center from Tuesday to Thursday allowed members to network, connect with vendors, see product lines and "get ideas for saving and making money," Goldenberg said.
The event also provides continuing education, which firms such as the Scully Co. believe is important for good performance in the management of their properties, Mette said.
Goldenberg said she became a certified apartment manager earlier this year.
In New Jersey, apartment managers are also required to have real estate licenses, and since last year that license has required continuing education as well, she said.
Members also heard the results of efforts by the association's charitable fund to help New Jersey residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The NJAA Charitable Fund has donated $55,000 to Gov. Chris Christie's Sandy Relief Fund, said association spokeswoman Marjorie Kaplan of Axiom Communications.
Maddalon said the money came from members, from the state and national associations, and from fundraisers the organization held.
Despite a widespread perception that the housing bubble collapse and foreclosure crisis pushed many people into rental housing, the industry lost a lot of business, Maddalon said.
"People were doubling and tripling up in apartments. Then there was the whole shadow market, and people who couldn't sell condos were renting those out," she said. Businesses that sell products and services to the apartment industry suffered more.
Now demand for apartments is back to where it was five years ago, she said. Conference attendance and membership in the N.J. Apartment Association held up through the downturn.
"Membership is optional and if you join, it's because you want to do a better job, want our help on legal issues," Maddalon said. "If you have a membership, you usually take advantage of it."
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