Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Improving On Success

APD Chief  Scott Livingstone addresses Rental Bylaw Implementation Group

The Rental Permit Bylaw has become perhaps the most successful local government health safety initiative of the past generation, protecting tenants from (the few) shoddy landlords while motivating them to keep tenants behavior in check or risk losing their permit.

Now, only one year after start up, the certification program boasts 100% compliance of all 1,261 rental properties in Amherst, a college town with a high percentage of rentals and the lowest median age in the state.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone paid a visit this afternoon to the Rental Bylaw Implementation Group to discuss ways to improve on the already resounding success of the program, specifically by allowing easier access to police records of that neighborhood bane, noise/nuisance issues.

The Chief told the committee that noise/nuisance complaints are not the highest priority for police response, so on a busy weekend when the weather is nice the call response can be delayed by an hour or more.  By the time police arrive the party or noise is sometimes over.

Currently the system  tracks noise/nuisance complaints if a formal ticket or warning is issued to a property.  But committee member Maurianne Adams wishes to see the system capture complaints made against a residence whereby no formal action was taken by officers, perhaps due to a delayed response.

Chief Livingstone confirmed the rowdy behavior that has disrupted neighborhoods for too many years, has improved significantly:  In 2012 APD had 1,064 calls for service relating to bad behavior and only two years later, in 2014, those calls decreased over 40% to 617.

The Chief attributed this dramatic reduction to outreach work done by his officers -- following up noise complaints the next morning for instance -- extensive publicity shining a light on bad behavior, neighbors taking it on themselves to try to resolve issues, and "peer group" initiatives undertaken by UMass and the Student Government Association (Walk This Way and Team Positive for instance).

One problem with increasing transparency of police calls via the town website is APD's computer system does not get along well with the town system used by Building Commissioner Rob Morra.

But Chief Livingstone liked the idea of sharing this information and planned to take it up with his senior staff and Information Technology person later this month. 


Anonymous said...

The new town website is even worse than the old one. How much are we paying for this to not work?

Larry Kelley said...

It is still a little buggy.

Anonymous said...

I heard they're looking for a new IT director over there. Any truth to the rumor?

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, Kris Pacunas left for a private sector job.

Anonymous said...

Any data on the price of rent sice this law was put in place. I know we raised rent 5% to cover the costs associated w permits and to have a fund to cover future govt expenses or expanded future permits. I feel bad for tenanants, but I dont make the laws and must pass on expenses with a margin or give up the houses.

Shouldnt success be measured by the effect on the community, not just on compliance. Peace and rents would be factors in that calc where just compliance could ignore significant costs.

Larry Kelley said...

Well the permit is only $100 per year and rents in Amherst average close to $1,000 per month, so a 5% increase sounds like gouging to me.

Anonymous said...

They could just post a pdf of the dispatch log.

Dr. Ed said...

How many tenant complaints have they addressed? Any?

From leaky roofs to no heat, from doors that don't lock to wiring that is downright scary, UMass students are paying top dollar for some truly deplorable conditions.

I will believe in the legitimacy of this when I start seeing *someone* advocating for the tenants (i.e. students) when *they* are being wronged.

Anonymous said...

Please remember that the rental bylaw was first proposed by a neighborhood group--not the Healthy and Safe Neighborhoods group that was dragging its feet. When the neighborhood's bylaw was put on town meeting warrant, the second bylaw was proposed. Another example of citizen activism to improve Amherst and the proper functioning of town meeting.

Anonymous said...

I call BS on Anon 7:59. The first rental bylaw proposed by the "neighbors" looked like it had been written by a kindergartner.

And the SHNG did not "drag its feet" - as demonstrated by its success, it was probably the single most successful committee in recent memory.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you can look up complaints on the town website. Anyone is free to file one there.

Anonymous said...

5% increase due to regulation is not gauging. The hard cost is 1-2% and there are associated costs of compliance and potential, a very high potential, that there will be additional regulations, oversights or LEO calls to my property that could result in additional costs.

Plus my rents are in line with community rents, that is why I have 100% occupancy, only some students. My tenants understood the increase.

Just because people don't want there to be a cost to regulation, does not mean that when there is, that it is gauging. Regulations increase the cost of most things we buy by far more than 5%.

Even the state recognizes that 6.25% is a nominal burden on a purchase......

remember taxes and regulations borne through businesses always have to include profit as well.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, why the hell did they change the website?

The old one was pretty great, the layout of the new one is terrible and it looks like crap.

They should just put the old one back up.

Anon Nitwit said...

Also, Larry, I know you did not like that we increased our rent, but I was wondering if you could comment on the meat of my comment? The question about the appropriate way to measure success. Surely compliance is not a measure of policy success, effects are. One of the effects is higher rent, another is more funding for the town (where ever it goes - I don't actually care) and there are many others. My question is ....is the town better off, how is this being measured and does it include measurements of effects to those that have little voice like the tenants who bear the cost of the regulations, fully plus profit (the way all business regulations are paid by business that don't fail). Forcing a new type of permit and costs structure on a class of local business is a pretty significant change.

Would we consider it a success if Amherst had to permit and review all bloggers and all of them complied? I would not think so. I do not want the town regulating you or any other speech period, but they may in time, and could certainly find a way to regulate you and certainly do have say over how people speak in town. Such a "successful" regulation could silence an appropriate voice.

You are likely thinking they will never regulate bloggers in Amherst, which is exactly what I used to think about getting permits to provide people housing....and housing is more important than blogs, housing is actually needed, even if I and others appreciate blogs (inluding yours), we need houses.

Anonymous said...

The difference being that free speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Earning rent is not.

And the success is that noise complaints etc. have greatly reduced now that landlords like 10:47 cannot hide in the shadows and must police their own tenants.

If you don't like it, get the f*** out of Amherst.

Dr. Ed said...

" Anyone is free to file one there."

Just like "anyone" eligible to vote could do so in the Jim Crow South -- and yet less than 1% of Eligible Blacks were even *registered* to vote in Birmingham, Alabama.

What do you honestly think would be the consequences to a student/tenant who did file a complaint? Do you honestly think that any town entity would (a) advocate for the tenant and (b) intervene when the landlord retaliated against the tenant?

All they will accomplish is to cause themselves problems.

They might even get themselves evicted -- and then what? They have classes to attend, and they need to live somewhere local so they can get to them -- in a reality of 100% occupancy, there is nowhere else for them to go.

I guess anyone could file a complaint -- but when I see the town actually making it safe for students to do so *and* actually addressing the issues the students raise (when the kids are right), then I will consider this bylaw legitimate.

Until then, I consider it nothing but another attempt to subjugate a portion of the population, to keep the UM students "in their place" -- essentially "on the back of the bus where they belong."

Larry Kelley said...

Anon Nitwit (appropriately named) 10:47 am

Perhaps the most interesting admission of the meeting came from mega-landlord Pat Kamins, who admitted "Things seem to be going in the right direction ..." but then he quickly whined about ALL landlords being inconvenienced by the actions of a few bad apples.

Dr. Ed said...

Do not doubt that the slumlords will first try to blame the tenants for the conditions in the apartment, and when that doesn't work, then attempt to go the "moral equivalency" route and claim that the tenant(s) transgressions are far worse than their own.

This is how slumlords work, it was something I encountered a lot. An example is "the scary house" -- It had a cheap fiberglass bathtub that was cracked and needed to be replaced -- and I made an issue of that. After first accusing the tenant of having broken it ("how" I asked) he then made a big issue of how she was using over $500 of water per *month*.

OK. A nice lady at the DPW helped me calculate how much water this actually would be -- and that was the end of the claim that the tenant and her daughters were "using $500 worth of water a month" taking showers.

Like I said, this is how slumlords work.

Anon Nitwit signing off said...

Get the F out of Amherst? Do you have a torch and pitchfork to go with such an attitude? I thought the only thing expected to be silent was the H?

People that bash property owners and employers need to remember that when we get pissed off at nitwit comments, we can do far more than vote or not post them - we can change housing and employment of others without anyone's permission for profit, need or revenge - even revenge against a blog poster.

You can hate us for it and we can do it even more as a result. This is called a negative feedback loop - Amherst knows these well.

Its cute though, people that don't own certain things or have employees trying to control things they don't own and relationships they are not in. I makes sense that those without much power or influence would take such actions, especially when they don't have to pay the real costs of the unemployed or those without housing. The fired and homeless people do, no matter how good you feel about your new laws.

Remember the employer that had to reduce staffing due to new taxes and regulations but all his employees were great workers. He just walked out to the parking lot, came back in and fired everyone with Obama stickers....you know, the same as "get the F out of Amherst" because you don't agree.

Dr. Ed said...

One other thing to remember is something that Larry has pointed out more than once -- very few students are actually kicked out of UMass -- while they are free to choose which students to kick out, a variety of factors forces UMass to keep the total number very small.

Hence what UMass does is terrify and intimidate all its students rather than just dealing with the miscreants. You have to actually meet Patricia Cardoso to comprehend how much of a bully she is -- Cardoso being the Assoc. Dean for Conduct/Compliance.

One needs to remember that the UM students live in terror of her -- and the slumlords know this.

Larry Kelley said...

So Anon Nitwit Signing Off: was there a threat in there somewhere?

Anonymous said...

having seen much news here recently re: the Amherst public schools? Is everything finally going right there for a change?
(with the MS changes without parent & teacher buyin, I think not).

Are there more than two candidates for the open School Committee (SC) seats?

Will there really two forums in each town in the region before the regional SC votes on amending the regional agreement to allow K-12 regionalization to proceed?

why was last night's regional SC meeting not televised? (& what happened there, if anything)?

no one else reports on the schools like you do (thank you Mr. Kelley!) I'd love some updates.

Anonymous said...

The complaints map has noise complaints on it http://www.amherstma.gov/1876/Complaints-Map

Dr. Ed said...

"The complaints map has noise complaints on it"

Having a separate listing of noise complaints creates at least the appearance that this all is nothing but a charade.

All students, even UMass students, are entitled to live in "safe & decent" housing -- that's what they are paying rent for -- and we all know that there are lots of places in Amherst where that doesn't exist.

How many apartments even have a working smoke detector, let alone a now-mandatory CO detector?

Why are serious safety violations not their own listing? I have my suspicious, but what's the official answer???