The rental market in southern New Jersey is seeing an unusual amount of activity — and facing atypical problems — after Hurricane Sandy displaced many from their homes.
But even in some of the hardest hit areas in South Jersey, including Ventnor and Long Beach Island, landlords have been able to open homes for displaced victims of storm Sandy.
The mayor of Ventnor, Mike Bagnell, gave a “verbal emergency CO” — certificate of occupancy — to landlord Fred Plotnick when he asked if he could move a family into an unoccupied rental property, said Plotnick, of Jenkintown, Pa.
Plotnick had three available properties in Ventnor, and though he was away on a business trip, Pleasantville Councilman Stanley Swan, a plumber with Ben Franklin Plumbing, was able to act on behalf of Plotnick and open the buildings up for the refugees.
“Stan was asking me if I wanted to settle on a deposit and rent and I said, ‘It’s an emergency, we’ll straighten things out later. Right now we need to get a roof over these people’s heads,’” Plotnick said in a phone interview Saturday.
Similarly, many summer residents and landlords of yearly rental properties in the affected areas have opened their doors to many victims of Sandy for short-term rental agreements.
Real estate agents are trying to contact recent clients or those they know from the past to try and find homes for families.
Judy Stephenson, of Galloway Township, who owns an apartment in Ocean City, received a call from an individual who was moving into the area to begin work in November. The place he originally leased was flooded out, and he was in search of a new apartment in the area, Stephenson said.
Jeffrey Wyrsch, vice president of personal insurance firm Van Dyke Group on Long Beach Island, said his office has not had a break since getting back to business.
Since only 15 percent of the island is populated year-round, many potential rental homes are available for displaced families, he said. But the problem is that most homeowners are still struggling to get onto the island and assess damage to their properties. New Jersey Natural Gas has been working to restart service to areas section by section, which is slowing down the process for determining available properties, Wyrsch said.
Soon after the storm, placing some of the victims was challenging, since most of the island was still inaccessible. All the motels and hotels were fully booked, and the few available rentals were gone.
“There are some homeowners who normally live here during the summer, and can rent for short-term now,” Wyrsch said.
But yet another obstacle remains on the island, where homes are winterized, he said. Homeowners, who may not be in the area, will have to turn on their water, and if they have natural gas service, will need to have their homes inspected by a technician before the house can be relit, according to NJNG.
“As of now, it’s very sparse,” Wyrsch said of the availability of rentals.
In Ventnor and the surrounding area, displaced homeowners are also awaiting rental availability.
Donna Cline, a real estate broker with Farley & Ferry Realty in Ventnor, has seen a plethora of needs and complaints.
“A lot of rentals were available anyway before the storm but those were the top half of duplexes,” she said. Traditionally first floors are occupied more frequently.
She has seen the traffic flow nearly nonstop since the ban on the island was lifted after the storm. She and the entire office staff have been working seven days a week, almost 12 hours a day since then, she said.
Some of the tenants are coming after the money provided by FEMA to stay in a hotel or motel runs out, she said. The market is going to see a huge change in three to four months when the contractors and crews leave, opening up the first floors of duplexes, she said.
But for now, landlords who traditionally focus on yearly rentals are compromising in order to help out victims by offering short-term rentals up to four months.
“People really are reaching out to help their neighbors, some of whom they have probably never met until now,” Bagnell said.
Some issues have arisen, and escalated to a level of needing legal interpretation, Cline said.
One issue has been that of a tenant residing in a property that was damaged and being repaired. Sometimes a property undergoing reconstruction can be occupied by the tenant, and therefore the landlord can continue to collect rent, as long as the landlord is making every possible effort to fix the place, she said. While some landlords are being lenient and allowing a break from rent while the construction is going on, she said, others are fighting to collect every penny.
“I’m trying to help everyone keep calm,” she said.”This is a kind of an unknown. We’ve never had this kind of issue.”
Bagnell said that despite all the damage in the city, “As long as I’m looking down at the grass and not up at the roots, I’m having a good day.”
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