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Rental regulations in Amherst subject of public forum

A set of recommendations for establishing regulations for residential rental properties is nearing completion.

The Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group, which continues to examine draft regulations for rental properties, will hold its second public forum Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Town Room at Town Hall.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe, a member of the group made up of town staff, residents and landlords, said the objective is to have simple, straightforward rules that can be part of a general bylaw for voters to consider at annual Town Meeting.

An initial 14-page draft from Feb. 5, based in part on regulations in other communities, is being streamlined, she said.

“There’s been a lot of effort ... to pare down the regulations, to make sure they’re only concerning elements we want to be regulating,” O’Keeffe said.

Town Manager John Musante said he applauds the care the group is taking to make practical improvements.

“The general agreement is that the status quo is not working as well as it could and should,” Musante said.

Musante said an emerging consensus among members of the group is that the system should be one that is primarily complaint driven.

Initial inspections would predominantly be done as “self-certification,” described in the draft regulations as “requiring an owner or their local agent to conduct an annual inspection of the property using a self-certification checklist provided by the town, including exterior and site conditions.”

Only complaints by tenants or neighbors would prompt an inspection by the town.

Some versions of the draft regulations are considered too onerous, including providing copies of leases and submitting formal management plans. Later versions have tweaked and removed these. O’Keeffe said it is still uncertain whether the regulations will require permits or licenses, and the working group hasn’t yet begun the discussion of penalties for violations.

Maurianne Adams, a member of the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods that supports a permitting system, said in an email that it would be analogous to the need for a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle.

Musante said he expects to examine the final draft regulations in advance of a vote at annual Town Meeting.

— SCOTT MERZBACH

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