WILDWOOD – Neighbors got a boost in their battle against a landlord, whose tenants have had their run-ins with the local police department, when Police Chief Robert Regalbuto took a public stand against the landlord.
Neighbors said Chris Lambert, the landlord, rents to the same groups of what they called underage troublemakers every year, and an agenda item to issue the landlord a conditional mercantile license became hotly contested, at the Wildwood Board of Commissioner’s May 26 meeting.
“I would ask the commissioners to reconsider providing the conditional license to this property. This is a nuisance property, has been a nuisance property for numerous years,” Regalbuto said over Zoom, at the meeting.
Neighbors said those who occupy the property, in the 3000 block of Pacific Avenue, party until the early hours of the morning, threaten to fight elderly neighbors, and taunt other neighbors unprovoked.
“My wife is pregnant. I don't feel safe sitting on the porch right next to the property, worried about the kids coming down the stairs drunk, threatening us, harassing us to the point where I need to then leave the porch and come outside, because I'm afraid one of them is going to swing, because they have already,” neighbor Jared Martz told commissioners.
Martz said an underage drunk girl fell from a roof last summer, his father-in-law was threatened physically, and there was an unreported stabbing on the sidewalk.
The police chief said the property was responsible for “numerous calls to our agency, resulting in numerous arrests for disorderlies, underage individuals consuming alcoholic beverages, fights, disturbances in the neighborhood.”
He said allowing Lambert to continue to rent the property under the conditions in the license was unfair to neighbors.
“If you approve and you give this gentleman a conditional license, it is my opinion we will not be able to afford and provide the residents and the taxpayers that live in that area the protection they need and the protection they deserve,” Regalbuto said. “The balance of that falls on you (the commissioners). When they call us at 1, 2, 3, 4 a.m., I will recommend that they call you at that time.”
Lambert did not attend the meeting on Zoom, and Regalbuto said that led him to believe he had been signaled the license would be approved.
Lambert, who owns the Atilis Gym, in Wildwood, and is a former Lower Township police officer, did not immediately return a voicemail left for him at the gym, which is next door to the rental property.
Mayor Peter Byron appeared to be caught off guard by Regalbuto’s strong stance against approving the resolution, allowing Lambert to continue to rent.
“Chief, I'm a little confused because it was my understanding that you were a part of this discussion relative to this resolution, where we put this owner on a short leash,” said Byron. “You're coming out here tonight and taking a very aggressive stand. Can you explain that?”
Regalbuto said he was never in favor of a settlement, but understood the city’s position the day prior. However, when he saw changes in the agreement, including the reduction of a bond that would be used to pay damages the city incurs from the property’s tenants, from $10,000 to $5,000, and a rule that tenants must be at least 25 years old, he could no longer support the resolution.
“The only change was from $10,000 to $5,000. I’m not sure how that’s a deal-breaker,” Byron said, adding the age limit was the only other last-minute change, which would be impossible to enforce because leases are already in place for this year.
“We’re not denying that probably in a perfect world, maybe we should not be giving this gentleman his mercantile license based on past. I’m not going to sit here and deny that. What I am going to say is that we’re trying to make the best of a pretty bad situation,” said Byron.
Byron said that the human element had to be considered, telling people this late into the spring that they would not be able to stay at the rental property.
Martz said the tenants are the same year after year, and while it might be an inconvenience to cancel their reservations, they are ruining Wildwood, as a family place.
“I want to be able to spend time with my family and be able to have summers in Wildwood with my daughter who is soon to be born, but I have to be honest, I don’t feel safe with her there based on the tenants who routinely come, night after night, home drunk,” Martz said.
Ultimately, commissioners tabled the resolution and were supposed to do something June 9, according to City Clerk Chris Wood.
Regalbuto warned commissioners that issuing the mercantile license against his advice would mean the responsibility for any problems coming from the tenants would lie with the elected officials.
“You are the elected officials of the City of Wildwood. You are charged with this endeavor of ensuring that we maintain public safety. I will do my best, but I need the support of our commissioners, and if you give this gentleman a conditional mercantile license… then the balance of that falls upon the commissioners. It does not fall upon the officers that work for the Wildwood Police Department,” said the chief.
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