Should Greenfield landlords be required to have vacant rental units inspected?

A significant portion of the Appointments & Ordinance Committee’s November 11 meeting was devoted to a proposed ordinance that would require vacated rental units in Greenfield to be inspected by the Board of Health before they can be rented out to a new tenant1.

Under the proposed ordinance, if the BOH finds the unit to be up to standard, the landlord would get a certificate of compliance and be able to rent the unit out again. If the rental is not in compliance, the landlord gets a list of what needs to be fixed before it can be rented out again. A landlord who rents out a non-compliant unit would be subject to compounding daily fines. The ordinance would also create registry of repeat-offender landlords, which would involve additional fines.

I’m not positive on this bit, but I believe the ordinance would also place the cost of the inspection on the landlord.

The ordinance was originally brought to the City Council back in the early summer by Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler, and has been bouncing around in committee ever since. Some of that delay (the original intent seems to be have it back to the full Council for a vote by fall) was due to the COVID-19 crisis, but at this meeting, the discussion suggested that there is a bit more to the delay than just that.

A&O Chair Dan Guin (Precint 2) said a few times—both at this meeting and at last week’s Committee Chairs meeting—that he wants to make sure this ordinance is still what is needed and will work without overly burdening landlords. Guin also stated that he has been waiting on a meeting with Mayor and a few of the municipal department heads before moving forward with the ordinance, and that those meetings have not yet happened2.

At city government meetings, public comment typically is reserved for a specific part of the agenda. However, the smaller committee meetings tend to be a bit less formal than the meetings of the full City Council; at this one, there were some ad hoc comments from a member of the public in attendance, and some ensuing informal discussion with the Councilors.

The conversation skirted around the specifics, but reading between the lines, I gather that there are a small number of well-known and long-running problem landlords (and rental properties) in Greenfield. Given that, it is not surprising that part of the discussion here is whether this issue is one that will be solved by an ordinance—either this one or some other, as yet unproposed ordinance—or if it is a matter of enforcement3.

The Appointments & Ordinances Committee meets next on December 9, so there may be further updates then.

  1. This proposed ordinance should not be confused with the Accessory Dwelling Unit zoning discussion, which is a completely different issue.
  2. I have an email out to the Mayor’s office to see what if any comment she has on when or if this meeting needs to happen.
  3. I have also asked the Mayor’s office whether they want to weigh in on the necessity of this or some other ordinance for enforcement.

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