Amherst planning committee explores numerous controls over rental properties Reply

Off-campus student housing has prompted proposed amendments to Amherst’s zoning bylaws addressing rental housing. (photo: University of Massachusetts, Amherst Old Chapel and library)

A subcommittee of the Amherst Planning Board is exploring amendments to the town’s zoning bylaws that will place more controls over the town’s numerous rental properties and the students renting them.  Amherst is the home of the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, and Amherst College.

Although the proposed amendments do not mention students specifically, it is reasonable to assume that they are a specific response to rowdy student behavior and absentee landlords in certain neighborhoods.   An assumption supported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette in a news article about rental issues in Amherst and one of the proposed amendments.

“Many residents who live in affected neighborhoods, especially those close to the University of Massachusetts, continue to express worry about upkeep, loud noise and underage drinking associated with homes being rented, especially to college students.”

The proposed amendments include a rental property registration process, a definition of  a “functional family”, a re-classification of home types, and new regulations for converted dwellings.

The Gazette reported that a questionnaire was recently sent to property owners to help gather information as part the rental registration proposal, which will require the owners of rental properties to register them with the town as part of the town’s Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.

But this is not the only change to the bylaw being discussed by town officials.

One proposed change to the zoning bylaw seeks to define a “functional family”.   It states that un-related individuals in a home are not to be considered a functional family, but uses recognized by state and federal law like group homes and half-way houses would be regarded as a functional family.

The functional family amendment also defines the characteristics of a family living under one rented roof, i.e., minor dependent children, shared preparation of food, proof of sharing household expenses, etc.  It also goes so far as to require a functional family to submit an application to the Zoning Enforcement Officer, “demonstrating and providing evidence that the occupants of the premises share a preponderance of the above characteristics.”

Another proposed amendment seeks to reclassify single-family homes and duplexes into those that are owner-occupied and those that are not owner-occupied.   Under the the proposed amendment, if a special permit is required for the latter, a special permit granting authority can mandate the presence of an on-site resident manager as a condition of approval.

In addition to reclassifying owner occupied homes and those that are not owner-occupied, there are also amendments designed to regulate conversion of two unit dwellings to 4 or 6 units.  This regulation seems to discourage such conversions as it requires that only 20% of the new units created by the conversion be the result of new construction.

Whether these amendments will make it to Town Meeting for consideration remains to be seen.

If you are looking to buy or sell a home in the Pioneer Valley, make your first call to Michael Seward at 413-531-7129.

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