U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is excavating tons of lead-contaminated dirt from yards in West Deptford. Debris discovered there is linked to a nearby Superfund site. Carly Q. Romalino
GLASSBORO - The living room carpet came up and front yard trees came down.
Elizabeth Quam, a teacher-turned-landlord, worked Monday on one of 17 properties she owns and rents to college students in Glassboro.
But the borough's requirements to rent are strict, she said.
A lawsuit filed last month by Glassboro Guardians – a group of landlords, student tenants and borough residents – claims the rental regulations are so tight, ordinances discriminate against property owners renting to Rowan University students.
Glassboro Guardians, with landlords Quam, Adam Szyfman and Dan Capo, and student tenant Ryan Deutsch, filed the suit in March against the borough and its code officers.
The group's first lawsuit against the borough last year was successful. A judge overturned a 20-year-old borough ordinance requiring off-street 10-by 20-foot parking spaces for every occupant of the residence. A judge called the ordinance arbitrary and capricious. Szyfman called it expensive.
The 2016 Superior Court win is a launching pad for the new lawsuit, Szyfman said.
"It's beyond a 10-by 20-foot parking spot," he explained.
"There all these ordinances that apply to rental properties, which don't apply to a single-family home, which inhibits your ability to do business."
The lawsuit claims borough ordinances in place since the 1970s discriminate against landowners renting to college students by charging high inspection fees, requiring yearly inspections even if tenants don't change, and requiring more "performance standards" for rental properties than owner-occupied homes.
Borough attorney Tim Scaffidi said the borough has been served with the new lawsuit, but it does not comment on pending litigation.
More than 100 properties in the borough are represented in the lawsuit, Szyfman said, adding a class-action status of the lawsuit would mean every landlord in Glassboro and every student tenant would be notified of the court action.
"Hundreds of landlords could join the class action," Szyfman claimed.
Rental properties "are treated very differently than owner-occupied properties," Quam said.
"I feel there's an abuse of power ... that allows them to target landlords specifically renting to college students," she explained.
"If you're a 'yes' person ... you get taken advantage of very quickly."
Quam bought her first home in Glassboro when she was an undergrad at Rowan studying teaching. She wanted to move off campus for control over who she'd room with and how she could improve her residence. At 22, her parents helped her buy a house in 2004. Three friends planned to move in, too. She followed the borough's procedure, including a $160 registration fee for a rental license.
Neighboring towns charge a far lower fee. Mantua charges $60 to apply, Washington Township $50, Clayton $10, and PItman $15 per occupant.
"It's just not fair," Szyfman said, calling Glassboro's $160 fee an "illegal tax."
Quam said the first house she owned, occupied and rented to three friends was inspected about four times a year. Every time the inspector came out, she paid a fee to the borough.
"They force an inspection on you even if it's the same group of people," Quam claimed, adding the house would be inspected every time a single tenant changed.
"They would give me a whole list of stuff to do, and most of it wasn't safety related."
Quam recalled the inspector's report requiring her to clean soap from the inside of a kitchen cabinet and remove cobwebs from the basement.
"We thought this was a normal way of doing business in Glassboro. It's an invasion of privacy," Szyfman said.
Carly Q. Romalino; (856) 486-2476; firstname.lastname@example.org