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Legalities of village ordinance questioned

Along with the uproar on South Orange's new "quality of life" ordinance that fines landlords who fail to evict unruly tenants, many students, landlords and legal experts are questioning the issue on whether such a law is constitutional. According to Attorney Paul Callan, a Seton Hall graduate and an expert in both civil and criminal litigation who has been a regular legal commentator on NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN, the South Orange ordinance may have a difficult time surviving a court challenge."I believe the statute specifically targets university students, renters, unrelated persons, and possibly poor people in violation of the United States Constitution, the New Jersey Constitution and New Jersey State Law," Callan said. "The Constitution frowns on statutes used to target unpopular groups. While improper conduct can be regulated, this ordinance singles out renters and owners of rental properties for special sanctions that are not imposed on owner occupants of Village property." Because the ordinance singles out owners of rental properties, Callan said he questions the legality of a provision that requires landlords to evict "specific categories of individuals." However, Village President Douglas Newman said a good amount of research went into this ordinance. "We believe that this is a town legal ordinance that would withstand scrutiny by a court," Newman said. Newman was unable to discuss the legalities of the subject. Yet, Village Attorney Steven Rother said that Callan's observations "confuse the preamble language of the ordinance with those persons who may ultimately be interdicted by the ordinance." Already in the fall semester, off-campus students are being issued violations. According to Associate Dean of Students Chris Kuretich, nine off-campus students have been issued summons by the South Orange Police Department since the beginning of the fall semester. If the students who have been issued the summons are renting property in South Orange, they they may be close to violating the Village ordinance. Rother said the need for the ordinance is due to the result of numerous incidents where students committed quality of life violations."This is a fact which is well documented by official records of the police department and by numerous complaints by the Board of Trustees over many years," he said. "The subsequent operative portions of the ordinance are neutral and don't target any particular group, much less students."Callan opposed this idea when he said the ordinance not only "discriminates ‘university students' by singling them out as a group," but also targets against the poor and minority population, because these people tend to rent rather than own houses."Property owners don't get thrown out of their homes when they misbehave. The ordinance could have the impact of reducing affordable housing (which is) in violation of New Jersey law," Callan said.In contrast, Rother said the problem of persistent quality of life violations by property owners is different from a landlord tenant relationship. "There is absolutely nothing in the ordinance which discriminates or in any way infringes upon any constitutional right," Rother said.Callan notes that while the ordinance makes specific reference to renters, university students and unrelated occupants of property, no reference is made to married occupants."The reference to unrelated occupants of property could arguably constitute discrimination against homosexuals in violation of the New Jersey Constitution," Callan said.Rother said the notion that the ordinance targets homosexuals is "particularly offensive, given the fact that the Board of Trustees passed a resolution supporting marriage equality." Callan said the ordinance has many constitutional problems. To test the legalities of the subject it would take someone to file a lawsuit against the Village, which could entail significant costs, he said.The singling out of rental property owners in the ordinance has caused landlords to fear the possibility of significant costs as well.Paul Brothers, a landlord who lives in Madison, but rents in South Orange, said he has rented to about 22 Seton Hall students in the past six years and currently rents to a group on Riggs Place."I've never had a problem at all," Brothers said.Although Brothers said he does not feel he will have a problem with the students he rents to because of their good behavior, he does fear the possibility of losing money if an eviction becomes necessary."It would be extremely difficult, if I had to evict somebody, to fill those spots if the semester has already started. It's almost impossible," Brothers said."When I try and do my lease, I try and do it from August to August so that in September it's occupied for the school year. If I had to evict somebody in October or November it would be extremely difficult to find someone to live in those homes."


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