TOMS RIVER – A press conference to protest the township’s new certificate of occupancy law is scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday outside town hall, 33 Washington St.
The event, organized by Ward 1 Councilman Justin Lamb, is expected to include real estate agents and at least some home sellers who say the new law has made it more difficult to for sellers − and potential buyers − in Toms River. Lamb, Councilman Dan Rodrick and several real estate agents have said the law is slowing property sales here.
Lamb calls the event a press conference and “property rights rally.”
Lamb said the speakers at the press conference are expected to then attend the 6 p.m. Township Council meeting.
The continuing certificate of occupancy ordinance, which went into effect July 1, requires home sellers to pay $300 for a township inspector to conduct a physical inspection of the property, plus a records search to make sure there are no open or unresolved building, zoning, housing, code enforcement, or engineering conditions, violations or permits.
Lamb and Councilman Rodrick called for the ordinance to be repealed on Sept. 14, after several real estate agents spoke about what they believe to be the measure’s negative impact on Toms River’s real estate market at that night’s council meeting. They did not receive any support from other members of the council, although Ciccozzi indicated he might be open to reviewing the law.
Lamb has produced a new ordinance repealing the continuing certificate of occupancy law and asked Council President Kevin M. Geoghegan to add it to tonight’s agenda.
“This is a bad law, and it’s really killing sellers,” Lamb said. “It’s hurting our taxpayers.”
Lamb, who was elected last November, was not yet on the council when new continuing certificate of occupancy ordinance was adopted in late December. He said he has produced a revised inspection ordinance that he hopes can be adopted if council members would agree to repeal the existing measure.
Council members approved the ordinance by a 5 to 1 vote at the last meeting in December, before Councilmen Lamb, David Ciccozzi and James Quinlisk took office. Former Councilman Terrance Turnbach abstained on the vote, and Rodrick voted against it, arguing that the fee was too high and the ordinance was not necessary.
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“It’s not a problem to tell taxpayers we jumped the gun here,” Lamb said. “It’s an issue that is important to me, it’s not just political theater.”
The inspections required for residential properties are similar to those that already take place before a rental certificate of occupancy is issued in Toms River. Most homebuyers pay a private inspector to view their potential purchase and check for problems, but Toms River officials claim inspectors have sometimes not flagged serious issues because they normally do not check township records.
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It is the responsibility of the buyer to determine if a home has issues before completing the purchase, real estate agents and some residents have said.
Township Engineer Robert J. Chankalian and council members who supported the ordinance said it was adopted to try to prevent a tragedy like the 2017 fatal electrocution of 11-year-old Newark girl who was swimming in a Toms River lagoon. The girl and a friend were on a raft when it touched a boat lift and she was electrocuted, police have said.
The boat lift was installed in 2001, township officials said at the time, but the home was later purchased by a family that didn’t have a boat, and over time, an electrical junction box under the boat lift had corroded.
Toms River also has received complaints from several people who have bought properties that were found to have serious issues of which they were unaware, Chankalian has said. Among the problems: homeowners who unknowingly purchased properties labeled as “substantially damaged” by 2012’s superstorm Sandy, and face having to elevate their new homes, or complete other expensive work to bring the dwellings into compliance with federal flood insurance mandates.
The new continuing CO law does allow an exception for properties where a buyer assumes all responsibility for obtaining permits and making repairs to a home, and agrees not to live in the house until the township issues a CO.
Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns. She’s also passionate about the Shore’s storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle, [email protected]