Greenfield city councilor proposes ordinance to protect renters


Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2020 3:37:59 PM

GREENFIELD — City Council Vice President Otis Wheeler has proposed an ordinance that would protect renters throughout the city.

The ordinance proposes that whenever a rental within a building that is not owner-occupied becomes vacant, the owner, manager or person in charge must have it inspected by the Board of Health, at the cost of the landlord, before being reoccupied to determine whether it is in compliance with the State Sanitary Code at the very minimum.

“I don’t think the ordinance is ‘out there’ or unreasonable,” Wheeler said. “The ordinance is in response to a minority of local landlords who threaten tenants when they complain or call the Board of Health in response to issues.”

Wheeler said that should never happen — that it often puts people who are already in vulnerable positions and just need a place to live in even worse situations.

“We want to get ahead of issues before they even become issues,” he said. “Many people, especially those living in low-income areas, aren’t aware of their rights, and building and rental codes.”

According to the ordinance, if the Board of Health finds a rental is in compliance, it would issue a certificate of fitness for human habitation. If it finds a rental is not in compliance, the inspector would specify in writing the specific grounds of noncompliance and the owner would not be able to rent the space until he or she corrected the issues to the satisfaction of the board. Then, a certificate of compliance would be issued.

Ff an owner, manager or person in charge permitted reoccupancy of a rental in violation, he or she would be fined up to $50 per day. Every day the violation continued would be considered a new violation. The ordinance would not apply to any new rentals for which the building inspector had issued a certificate of occupancy within five years of the date of vacancy.

Wheeler said a chronic offender registry would be created, according to his proposed ordinance, and landlords who regularly fail to correct problems would be placed on it. They would also be subjected to fines of $300 and “other applicable enforcement measures.”

“I’ll be adding a piece that says a landlord would pay the Board of Health inspection fee,” he said. “It wouldn’t be huge, but it would have to cover the cost of the inspection. I think I’d like to see that be up to the board rather than the council.”

Wheeler said he presented the ordinance to City Council Ccommittee chairs at the end of June. It will now go to the council’s Appointments and Ordinance Committee, where it will most likely remain for a couple of months so that the public, landlords and renters have time to comment.

During that time, he said language could be changed. It could also be changed once it reaches the council for a full vote, probably sometime in the early fall.

“We’d also like to get some input from the Landlords’ Business Association,” Wheeler said.

The Landlords’ Business Association is a countywide organization that focuses on professionalism and fairness in providing rental housing. There are 19 member towns and villages in Franklin County, including Greenfield. No one from the organization was available for comment by press time.

“We just don’t want those few landlords to think they can continue to get away with doing the bare minimum,” Wheeler said. “People need a place to live and it should be a decent place for everyone. It’s my job as a councilor to look after their interests.”

The Appointments and Ordinance Committee meets virtually, for now, on the second Wednesday of every month. Wheeler said he expects the ordinance will be on its agenda in August.


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