Mandi Jo Hanneke, Rob Morra (Building Commish), Pat Kamins, Maurianne Adams
Building Commissioner Rob Morra told the Rental Bylaw Implementation Group this afternoon that after 18 months the new Rental Permit Program is going better than expected but could still be improved -- most notably via a strengthening of the bylaw.
The second Fiscal Year of operation started July 1st and by the end of the month 1,260 properties had renewed their permits, almost exactly the same number who enrolled the previous year.
About 30-40 new properties joined the list but about that many dropped off because they were no longer renting, so it was pretty much a wash.
With the $100 annual fee the program generated a $126,000 in revenues while break even for administrating is probably in the $165,000 range, a target figure that was given to Town Meeting two years ago when the program was first enacted.
The Town Manager could possibly consider a fee hike next year to increase revenues, bringing the program to a break even mark.
The main change Morra would like to see is the ability to (re)inspect properties that have been the subject of complaints and found by his department to be in violation of building/health codes. In Fiscal Year 2014 his department found 214 violations.
Currently a landlord "self inspects" the property and town inspectors only become involved when a tenant lodges a complaint. Morra pointed out that in some of the most egregious violations found the landlord/manager had checked off the self inspection form indicating that all was fine.
Kind of like what Iran nuclear self inspectors will be doing in the near future.
The Rental Bylaw Implementation Group was not overly enthusiastic about strengthening the bylaw just now (but maybe in the spring of 2017) to allow for mandatory inspections, siting mainly privacy concerns. They also wish to see data to show how many of those 214 violations last year were repeat offenders.
Another idea presented by Morra was also met with wariness, also due to privacy concerns: A joint task force made up of police, fire, health department and the new UMass neighborhood liaison (Eric Beal) with a mission to tour a usual suspect street or neighborhood.
The goal would not be to simply hand out enforcement tickets but to educate and inform residents of their rights to live in a safe rental property. Morra thought if the pilot program does come to fruition it would kick off in late September or sometime before Halloween.
The Rental Registration Bylaw was overwhelmingly passed by Town Meeting two years ago as one means of bringing rowdy Party Houses under control, but mainly to prevent tragedies that can occur when slum lords have free reign.
So far this important public safety program is two for two.