Amherst may increase fees, create appeals board for rental registration program

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2017

AMHERST — The town continues to contemplate changes to a rental registration program that may include increasing fees for property owners and establishing an appeals board.

The Select Board is eyeing the fee changes because the costs of running the program exceeds the income being generated.

But any adjustments to the bylaw, adopted by Town Meeting in 2013 and in effect since Jan. 1, 2014, likely wouldn’t come until the fall, after the latest round of property owners registering rental homes and apartments is complete.

Board member Alisa Brewer said there are questions about whether the program, which collects $100 per property, is sufficient. Town Meeting, she said, was advised that the program would be revenue neutral.

“We were told factually by the town manager at the time that it would pay for itself, but it does not, it has not,” Brewer said.

Building Commissioner Robert Morra said permit fees for the nearly 1,300 rental properties were supposed to provide the town the revenue for a new inspector, who serves as a code enforcement officer, and a permit administrator. But these fees no longer cover these salaries in full.

There has long been a discussion, Morra said, that large rental properties, including apartment complexes, should have to pay higher fees than single-family homes being used as rentals.

But Morra said he has repeatedly come to the conclusion that his staff is putting in the same amount of work for each permit.

Each property owner is required to fill out a self-certification form that attests to condition of all units and submit a plan for parking on the property. Then the permit is issued.

There is little evidence that complexes are the cause of problems, he said, with just six complaints in 2016 at properties with 20 or more units. Morra said they included one complaint about a gas range not working properly and another made about an overflowing dumpster.

“Generally what we have found is those properties have on-site management,” Morra said.

Board member Connie Kruger said Town Manager Paul Bockelman should identify the precise funding gap and plan to bring forward a plan showing how fees would be adjusted.

As one of the town’s most successful programs, with high levels of compliance, board member Andy Steinberg cautioned that adjustments could be detrimental.

“I would be very hesitant to consider a fee structure that might change that understanding, that might change that behavior,” Steinberg said.

A rental appeals board remains a concept in case the license to rent a property is suspended.

Morra said members who might join such a board don’t have to have experience with rental properties, but the board would have a town official or municipal employee, as well as someone with legal expertise.

Brewer said it would be unfortunate to not have such a board in place if needed, and it wouldn’t be smart to wait until there is a problem.