Debra Jacobson: Landlords should pay for zoning code enforcement

Published: 03-17-2023 3:45 PM

Alex Kent’s recent column “Gold Rush in Amherst!” [Gazette, Feb. 18] discusses how “lax enforcement of the Tenant Zoning bylaw” is leading to an “ongoing deterioration of neighborhoods” besieged by unscrupulous investors profiting from the town’s inability to enforce its own housing ordinances. Kent proposes useful reforms; may I suggest one in addition? Enforcement should be funded by the landlords themselves because those who profit handsomely from lax enforcement clearly do not self-police and respect town regulations. The town should charge landlords a fee to cover the cost of hiring inspectors. Fines for violating should be substantial, especially for repeat offenders, and revenue from these fines should be applied to funding the town’s enforcement efforts.

A program penalizing misbehaving landlords might give landlords an incentive to maintain their properties properly without imposing costs on their neighbors and on the town. For those who worry that the costs will be passed on to tenants, I might respond that if rents are at market rate now, landlords won’t be able to charge more; if they could charge higher rents, why wouldn’t they already be doing so? To be sure, this program might make converting housing to student housing harder, but is that, given current town concerns, actually a problem?

Debra Jacobson

Amherst

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