Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rental Permit Passes BIG Hurdle

Jonathan Tucker, Stephanie O'Keeffe, John Kennedy 

Amherst Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe deemed the draft document the Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group has been toiling over for a dozen public meetings, "Not absolutely perfect regulations, but pretty damn good!"

And with that, after a little clarification help from Phil Jackson who seconded the motion, the committee came to a lopsided 8-2 vote in favor (2 property managers voting no) of forwarding the draft document (part 4.a.1. was taken out today, so it no longer exempts owner-occupied rentals) to the Town Manager, who will craft it into a warrant article for Amherst Town Meeting. 

The Residential Rental Property Bylaw will require a rental permit that is exceedingly easy to get and conversely, very hard to lose.  

As a General Bylaw it will only require a majority vote at Town Meeting rather than the difficult to achieve two-thirds vote that all zoning articles require.

Because we are a "college town," Amherst has a far different housing market than national average:  out of 9,621 year round units 4,258 -- or 46% -- were owner occupied, and 5001 -- or 54% -- were rentals.   National average for owner occupied units is 67%.

Also synonymous with being a college town, college students comprise 59.4% of Amherst's population.  And while the vast majority of college students are industrious, hard working, solid citizens, a small percentage who live off-campus make life miserable for average working families and retired citizens. 

With a permit system in place Amherst will have a new weapon to control irresponsible slumlords.  Like the nuclear arms race of the 1950s and 60s, weaponry town officials hope never to use, but the threat will act as a defining deterrent to bad behavior.


Dr. Ed said...

During the Rodney King riots - way back when - it was those neighborhoods where over 50% of the property was owner-occupied that didn't burn. 50% appears to be a threshold between a neighborhood in which people have an investment and those in which they don't -- and this then corresponds to the climate of the neighborhood.

I've seen the 50% statistic in other contexts as well -- once you drop below 50% owner-occupied, you start having lots of problems you otherwise wouldn't have.

Anonymous said...

It all sounds good but who will enforce it? It still needs to be proven to me that Amherst has what it takes to make this happen. this town has a bad history of coming up with great idea's but having a long yellow streak down it's back when it comes to enforcement. There always seems to be some loophole or injustice to a special interst group that makes it almost like they never passed any motions for positive change.

Larry Kelley said...

Who will enforce it? I will. With a very large spotlight.

Anonymous said...

I get that there is a real problem but this whole permit idea seems like another way to get revenue and add bureaucracy to town government. Seems like the nanny state is just increasing its grasp. Has his been done anywhere else?

Dr. Ed said...

The original rental registry was for the purposes of arranging for the periodic inspection of the rental units, something which was provoked in part by an infamous incident where the entire exterior stairway washed away in a rainstorm.

Folks, it goes both ways -- you give the students something and you will get something, right now you just want to get and I don't see you doing so well. IF you give the students the municipal services that any inhabitant has the right to expect of his/her/its local municipality, THEN you will be standing on far more solid moral/ethical grounds when you ask them to comply with your rules.

Boston's Mayor Menino is many things but he is not stupid and he wanted to reign in student misbehavior without getting into the "us versus them" situation that Amherst currently is in. That is why he and his code inspectors went down to the Alston/Brighton neighborhoods on student "move in" day and started advocating for students. His folks insisted that the landlords physically clean some of the units & address some of the more egregious code violations, right now before the students moved in, and I have no doubt that they were threatening to arrest everyone involved in renting the units if this wasn't done immediately.

Boston's Inspectional Services unit does tend to be a bit heavy-handed, I have no doubt they not only were threatening arrests but had lots of cops around for intimidation purposes, but I digress.

The first thing these kids saw was the City advocating for them, this was their FIRST impression of city regulations -- a good thing that THEY benefited from. First impressions matter, they matter in Boston where the kids see a city that will advocate for them, and they see it in Amherst where landlords nonchalantly have a "sucks to be you" attitude with total impunity.

Which group of kids is going to respond more favorably to the municipal government asking (or telling) them not to do something?

Bluntly, which kids, as individuals, are more going to want to remain on favorable terms with the local authorities -- which is more likely to presume a potential future benefit in maintaining amicable relations with municipal authorities?

The kid who has seen the municipality do things for other students and realizes he/she/it might want to benefit from such services in the future, or the kid who has never seen the town do anything for UMass students...

I mean no disrespect to the APD or AFD here -- you know that 18-year-olds consider themselves immortal and thus it will be someone else who needs your services, not them. They often wind up needing your services in part BECAUSE of this belief, and the stupid things they do because of it, but that isn't going to help here.

The town needs to do something very visible and helpful to the students. It needs to play to their developmental sense of "right and wrong" -- they see the landlords "wronging" them with the poor conditions and shoddy treatment they often receive from what is essentially nine landlords.

Yes, 9. I'm doing the math in my head and may have missed one but I'm thinking of just nine companies that control almost all the rental housing in Amherst -- others may physically own it, but the students are dealing with just nine people and their staffs. And almost all of them have (or had) the same attorney (Larry Farber) -- do you see where the "us v. them" attitude starts coming from?

What the students see is a town that cares about everyone but them, and why should they comply with your ordinances absent the presence of a large number of police officers?

Dr. Ed said...

One other thought: I would suggest people start reading some of the LBJ-era stuff relative to urban ghettos.

In addition to the 50% ownership level, they got into some of the attitudes and perceptions of the people who lived in the ghettos -- and you are dealing with the same thing here.

I'm not interested but you need to hire someone as obnoxious as me, who honestly doesn't care if the entire town social community hates his guts, to address the student housing quality issue. You won't have any respect from the students until you are seen & known to stand up to your own friends on their behalf.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous. There are bad apples in terms of "slumlord" landlords, however, the majority of landlords in Amherst are on top of their properties. When you get students who first move in, you get promises, a smile and great manners. As the year progresses, they become idiots, trash your house and don't care what happens to them. The landlord is always stuck holding the bag as every summer, the landlords have to make repairs that far exceed the security deposit. Why are the landlords getting the brunt of this? It's no different than punishing the leasing company of a vehicle when the driver is committing violations.

Dr. Ed said...

The majority of landlords in Amherst are not on top of their properties -- the majority are renting properties that would never pass an honest inspection....