In unusually strong language, the three state legislators representing Sussex County have condemned the strong-arm tactics that some community lake associations and their attorneys reportedly are using in the midst of an economic crisis to squeeze money out of homeowners who aren't required to belong to those associations.


In a joint statement, state Sen. Steve Oroho and Assembly members Parker Space and Hal Wirths, all R-24th Dist., called on lake associations to cease threatening those homeowners with liens and "to stop threatening homeowners to pay dues they are not legally bound to pay."


The legislators particularly deplored the use of such tactics at this time, noting that the state has already halted foreclosure proceedings due to the COVID-19 economic crisis and urged banks to offer forbearance to unemployed mortgage borrowers facing financial hardship.


“Businesses are closed, jobs are lost and people are suffering and can’t pay their bills, and now we have homeowners being threatened with liens because a select few are trying to draw blood from a stone,” Space said.


The three lawmakers are sponsors of pending legislation — A2480 in the Assembly, and S908 in the state Senate — to prevent voluntary lake associations from levying dues and assessments on homeowners who aren’t required by law or by their property deeds to join or pay membership fees to those associations.


The legislation was put forth last year in response to prior controversies in Cranberry Lake in Byram, Lake Neepaulin in Wantage, and other lake communities that had been accused in recent years of improperly attempting to impose assessments on homeowners who weren’t required to belong to those associations.


More than one million New Jersey residents currently live under the governance of a lake community or other homeowners-type association, several dozen of which can be found in Sussex County alone.


“It is outrageous that during a pandemic and the worst economic meltdown in 90 years that there are those seeking to spread more economic hardship,” Wirths said. “The legislation is ready to go and as a prime sponsor of A2480, we are talking with Speaker Craig Coughlin and (urging that) when legislation not dealing with the crisis is going to be posted, that our bills are at the top of the list.”


The legislation, which would amend Chapter 106 of the Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act to clarify the obligations of homeowners to lake associations, was vetoed in its initial form last year by Gov. Phil Murphy based on a technicality in the original bill's language. However, the governor has indicated he supports the proposal in principle and that he intends to sign the currently pending legislation, which the state Senate has already passed on a 38-0 vote held in February.


Oroho, in a statement, minced no words in calling on lake associations to cease collection activities against those the legislation is meant to protect.


“The overly aggressive approach used by some lake associations to collect dues from homeowners is unfortunate in the middle of this crisis. I condemn any homeowners’ association trying to intimidate owners with heavy-handed tactics," Oroho said.


"The state has already provided relief to those unable to make mortgage or rental payments. With more than 858,000 New Jerseyans out of work because of COVID-19, compassion is called for in times such as these. This is one more reason the Assembly must follow the Senate’s lead and pass our legislation, S908/A2480, that clarifies misconceptions regarding homeowner fees.”


Eric Obernauer can also be contacted on Twitter: @EricObernNJH or by phone at 973-383-1213.