Amherst selectmen approve $100 rental property registration fee; occupancy restriction seems to conflict with fair housing law Reply

Call Michael Seward at 413-531-7129 if you are planning on buying or selling a home in Amherst or surround communities.

Call Michael Seward at 413-531-7129 if you are planning on buying or selling a home in Amherst or surround communities.

The Amherst Board of Selectmen recently approved a rental registration fee of $100 that will go into effect January 1 and will need to be renewed annually, according to Masslive. The new fee is part of a rental housing bylaw that was approved by Town Meeting back in May, but the town’s occupancy restriction seems to conflict with Massachusetts fair housing laws as it targets single and young people.

As part of the registration and permitting process, every owner of a rental property will have to submit an application to the town offices with: the name and complete contact information of landlords and managers and evidence that their property is compliant with all safety and zoning codes. A parking plan is also required under the new regulation.

There are numerous other regulations tied to this bylaw that seem prudent given the problems of a college town. Among them, according to Masslive, is an information sheet that must be provided to all new tenants regarding the local bylaws, which includes the limit of four un-related individuals that can occupy a unit.

What has not been reported or even asked of town officials is if the occupancy limit is discriminatory, as many Amherst home have more than four people in their household who are not subject to occupancy restrictions. Massachusetts Fair Housing Law prohibits discrimination based on, “race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap or receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the terms, conditions or privileges of such housing, space or land, or the acquisition thereof, or in the furnishing of facilities and services in connection therewith.”

It seems to me that that Amherst’s new bylaw is discriminatory to young and single people.  It could be argued that the occupancy restriction discriminates against young people and those who are not married because it creates a different standard.    Of course, I am not an attorney. So the owners of the over 1,500 Amherst properties affected by this new bylaw may want to consult with their attorney regarding the fair housing issues that may arise.  As a REALTOR®, the bylaw puts me in an awkward position as I am required to adhere to fair housing laws in the marketing of a property.

Although Amherst’s bylaw does not apply to “lodging houses”, the Boston Globe reported that the Supreme Judicial Court struck down a Worcester bylaw that sought to classify any property with four or more unrelated people as lodging houses in order to restrict occupancy, as well.

The Globe report quoted a portion of the court’s opinion: “While we recognize that the city seeks to protect student safety, and apparently regards the apartments at issue here as being the equivalent of dormitories, such concerns are better addressed through enforcement of applicable zoning ordinances and provisions of the sanitary and fire safety codes.”

Based on the court’s opinion, it seems that the town’s occupancy restriction is not the best course of action to get a handle on the problems tied to student housing and creates an unreasonable burden on students who may need more than four to occupy a house to afford the rent. They are already burdened by the incredible costs of an education. It is not the number of people who live in a house that creates the problem. It is how existing laws are enforced. The new regulation minus the occupancy restriction creates enough controls to deal with the problems of off campus student housing.

If you are planning on buying a home in the Pioneer Valley, make your first call to Michael Seward at 413-531-7129. Michael Seward is a Certified Residential Specialist, a Certified Buyers Agent, a Certified Loss Mitigation Specialist, a Certified New Homes Specialist, and Green designee of the National Association of REALTORS®.

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