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KIYC: Condemned Plainfield building had history of violations. Here’s how to avoid a housing nightmare

Hundreds of tenants at 501 and 515 West Seventh St. in Plainfield were given notice to vacate the property.

Walt Kane

Aug 9, 2023, 10:55 PM

Updated 314 days ago

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The two apartment buildings in Plainfield that were condemned this week, forcing residents to move out abruptly, have a history of building code violations dating back years, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds.
In October 2021, inspectors with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs found 253 separate housing code violations at the buildings at 501 and 515 West Seventh St. Of those, 235 had gone unrepaired since the previous inspection four months earlier.
Some of the problems inspectors cited were serious: walls and ceilings in need of repair and apartments without working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.
Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp says it appears none of those problems have been fixed since then.
Mapp says in response to residents’ concerns, the city’s Quality of Life Task Force inspected the buildings recently and determined there was no other option except to condemn the buildings.
But some families were upset by the abrupt notice, saying they just paid August rent a few days ago.
What can tenants do to avoid housing nightmares like this? If you’re a prospective renter, experts say don’t rent sight unseen. Visit the property first and make sure you see the actual unit you’d be renting.
If there are problems, make sure they’re fixed before you sign the lease, or, at the very least, that you have a written commitment from the landlord to fix them as part of the lease agreement.
Prospective renters can also check out their building’s inspection history. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs is required to inspect all multiunit apartments every five years. Reports are available online.
If a landlord won’t take care of important repairs, New Jersey law allows tenants to withhold rent. Some experts recommend an alternative approach called “repair and deduct.” That’s where a tenant, after providing adequate opportunity for the landlord to make repairs, informs them that if they’re not done by a certain date, the tenant will pay for the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent.
Experts caution that under the law, repair and deduct can only be used for important repairs.
If a tenant has a question, they can consult an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant issues. If they can’t afford an attorney, they can also contact Legal Services of New Jersey.
Do you have a story that needs to be investigated? Click HERE to get Kane in Your Corner.


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