By Ron Leir
Occupants of the so-called Sober House at 2-8 Grand Place in Kearny faced a court order to vacate the building on or before 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 4.
Hudson County Superior Court Judge Hector R. Velazquez, sitting in Jersey City, so ordered last Friday after determining “that immediate or irreparable harm will result” from property owner Jacqueline Lopes “operating or permitting others to operate a rooming/boarding house” in a single-family residential zone.
An inspection of the property conducted by the state Department of Community Affairs’ Bureau of Rooming & Boarding House Standards on Oct. 6 found that eight people were living in the house. Angelo J. Mureo, an enforcement field supervisor with the bureau, concluded that, “the property is currently operating as an unlicensed Class C boarding house.” The house can hold up to nine residents, Mureo determined.
Among “concerns regarding physical plant,” Mureo recommends removal of two entry doors, “one providing access to the third story attic area housing a rooming unit to accommodate two roomers and the other housing a sitting room.”
He also says the bureau has received “no certificate of smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm compliance, issued by the designated Uniform Fire Code enforcing agency….”
The judge will allow Lopes to explain why the occupants of the house should be allowed to stay – but not until a hearing set for Dec. 12 at 11:30 a.m. in Jersey City.
On a separate legal front, Lopes and Charles Valentine, who runs the Sober House operation, have been summoned to appear in Kearny Municipal Court Nov. 13 at 10:30 a.m. Lopes faces fines totaling $8,000 dating from Sept. 5 for “changing the use” of the property while Valentine is charged with failing to get a certificate of occupancy for a rooming house, dating from Sept. 8.
As of last week, it was unclear what, if anything, Lopes or Valentine would do to prevent the vacate order from being carried out.
According to complaints filed by Kearny with Superior Court, Lopes acquired the Grand Place property around May 2014 and received a C.O. for its “continued use” as a “one-family dwelling.” But, the complaint notes, Lopes “is being paid $1,900 per month to illegally operate, or to permit others to illegally operate, a boarding house on the premises.”
This contention, the town says in its complaint, is borne out by the state inspection report.
And because the Valentine House accommodates “recovering drug and alcohol addicts,” that is “of particular concern to the town because the Roosevelt Elementary School is approximately 100 feet from the premises,” the complaint says.
Further, the complaint says, Lopes “has not applied to the town for a variance to use the premises as a rooming/boarding house [and] is not licensed by the [state] as a rooming/ boarding house operator ….” and that she “misrepresented that she would occupy the premises as her sole residence.”
Fairfield attorney Gregory Castano Jr., the town’s general counsel, argued in the complaints that, “The town has a statutorily mandated obligation to enforce the state and local zoning laws. Every single day that Ms. Lopes is permitted to operate an illegal rooming/ boarding house at the [Grand Place] premises is a flagrant, continuing and ongoing injury for which the town – which represents the general public interest – has no other remedy.”
Lopes couldn’t be reached and reportedly had no legal representative at last week’s court session. Valentine’s attorney Thomas J. Cotton was unavailable last week.