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Amherst Select Board endorses rental property bylaw

AMHERST - A new permitting system for all rental properties in Amherst is being endorsed by the Select Board.

The board is unanimously supporting the residential rental property bylaw, which will come before annual Town Meeting, and mandates permits for all homes being rented in town, whether or not they are owner-occupied. The cost is $100 per property.

The complaint-based system relies primarily on initial self-inspections by property owners, with the expectation that the rental housing stock will be improved.

Town Manager John Musante said he thinks it has the potential to make a positive influence on protecting neighborhoods from the destructive effects of rentals, which has included loud noise and nuisance behaviors, while allowing the robust rental market to continue to thrive.

“This is the result of a very thorough process, I think, with the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods working group I convened a few months back,” Musante said.

Meanwhile, a petition article submitted by the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods will also be considered at Town Meeting. The Select Board is not yet taking a position on the article, depending on whether the bylaw passes.

Maurianne Adams, a spokeswoman for the group, said members supported the idea of a rental permit so much that they put it into a petition to ensure voters could consider it.

“Our basic point is we want a rental permit that will pass Town Meeting,” Adams said.

But the petition excludes owner-occupied rentals from the bylaw, noting that these are typically not sites of disturbances, and imposes higher fees for addresses with more rental units, such as large-scale apartment complexes.

The only objections to the bylaw were voiced by Denise Barberet of North Whitney Street, who said the working group had no renters on it and isn’t sure the bylaw will deal with disruptive behavior. Instead, it focuses more on the condition of rental units, which Barberet said treats all landlords as if they are offering substandard housing.

“As far as I know, it is not a widespread problem,” Barberet said.

She called it a distraction from dealing with the real problems and is intrusive and insulting. “It’s saying I’m incapable of looking after my own welfare,” Barberet said.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said she considers the bylaw to be tenant protection and bettering the neighborhood quality of life.

The suspension will only come if there are egregious violations, such as when tenants continue to misbehave in some way, causing disruptions or refusing to park on driveways. Property managers and landlords must take steps or else be subject to fines and the possibility of permit suspension.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said there will be no mandatory inspections.

Musante said he is convinced that the bylaw is responsive to many issues, establishes a baseline compliance with life, safety and sanitary codes, and increases tenants’ awareness of health and safety bylaws.

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