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A closer look at 'animal house' ordinances

The unfortunate reality is that almost every rental property owner has some sort of experience dealing with less than ideal tenants. While these tenants may have been problematic due to more minor issues like excessive noise or bothersome pets, still others might have been problematic because of more serious issues like criminal activities.

While the laws in every state certainly give landlords the right to evict these types of problem tenants, the reality is that this isn't always the easiest feat to accomplish without legal assistance and can weeks, if not months.

In a very interesting story, local and state lawmakers in New Jersey have actually made things even more difficult for landlords in that state thanks to the passage of so-called "animal house" ordinances.

Back in 1993, state lawmakers passed the "animal house" law, which allowed communities on the Jersey Shore to introduce ordinances holding "inept or indifferent landlords" responsible for renting to "irresponsible vacationers," as a means of preserving the quality of life and overall desirability of these vacation spots.

Seventeen years later, lawmakers expanded the law to cover all rental properties in the Garden State.

As a result, communities across the state have now passed their own animal house-style ordinances.

For instance, just a few weeks ago, the township of Brick passed an ordinance dictating that landlords who rent to tenants that run afoul of either municipal or criminal laws more than twice in a 24-month period will be required to post a bond somewhere between $500 to $5,000.

This bond will then be held by officials for anywhere from two to four years, with both the bond amount and length of time the bond determined by a hearing officer who will first hear arguments and consider evidence from the landlord and township officials before making a decision.

In the event more "substantiated complaints" are made against the same tenants, township officials can then initiate legal proceedings requesting whole or partial forfeiture of the bond, or an extension of the bond holding period.

It should be noted that landlords do have the option of recovering any forfeiture of the bond amount directly from the problem tenants.

As you might imagine, the measure has proven less than popular among landlords in Brick.

"How is the landlord supposed to control what a tenant does?" said rental home owner. "The court ties the landlord's hands to control what the tenant does, and then they want to hold the landlord responsible for something that is out of his control."

It will be interesting to see if this rather onerous legal situation catches on in other states across the U.S.

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