Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives
in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same,
SECTION 1. Declaration of Emergency. The general court finds and declares that a serious public emergency exists in the town of Amherst with respect to availability and quality of the housing of a substantial number of town residents. This emergency has been caused by the rapid inflation in the costs of new housing construction; by prolonged high interest rates which have retarded new housing construction; by the substantial increase in the town's student population since the year nineteen hundred and sixty; and by increases in residential mortgage rates, which have made home ownership more difficult or impossible, especially for low- and moderate-income families and elderly persons on fixed incomes. The general court further finds that because of the continuing critical shortage of rental housing accommodations, abnormally high rents have resulted and, unless residential rents become subject to review and control on a case-by-case basis, such emergency and the further inflationary pressures resulting therefrom will produce serious threats to public health, safety, and general welfare of the residents of the town of Amherst, particularly the low- and moderate-income families and elderly persons on fixed incomes; and that such emergency should be met by the general court immediately with due regard for the rights and responsibilities of the town of Amherst.
SECTION 2. Definitions. The following words or phrases as used in this act, and in the by-law established hereunder, shall have the following meanings:-
(a) "Rental unit", any building, structure, or part thereof, or land appurtenant thereto, or any other real or personal property rented or offered for rent for living or dwelling purposes, including houses, apartments, rooming or boarding house units, and other properties used for living or dwelling purposes, together with all services connected with the use or occupancy of such property.
(b) "Rent", the consideration, including any bonus, benefits, or gratuity demanded or received for or in connection with the use or occupancy of a rental unit or the transfer of a lease of such a rental unit.
(c) "Services", repairs, replacement, maintenance, painting, providing light, heat, hot and cold water, elevator services, window shades and screens, storage, kitchen, bath, and laundry facilities and privileges, janitor services, refuse removal, furnishings, parking, and any other benefit, privilege, or facility connected with the use or occupancy of any rental unit. Services to a rental unit shall include a proportionate part of services provided to common facilities of the building in which the rental unit is contained.
(d) "Landlord", includes an owner, lessor, sub-lessor, assignee, or other person receiving or entitled to receive rent for the use or occupancy of a rental unit, or an agent of any of the foregoing.
(e) "Tenant", includes a sub-tenant, lessee, sub-lessee, or other person entitled to the possession, use, or occupancy of a rental unit.
(f) "Person", includes an individual, corporation, partnership, association, or any other organized group of persons, a legal successor or representative of the foregoing.
(g) "Petition", a formal written statement on a form approved by the housing review board requesting specific relief and setting forth the relevant facts and reasons therefor.
SECTION 3. Housing Review Board. (a) The town of Amherst is hereby authorized to establish, by a by-law not inconsistent with this act, a housing review board, herein referred to as the board.
(b) The board shall consist of five members who shall be residents of the town of Amherst. The board members shall be appointed by the town manager and approved by the board of selectmen to serve without compensation. Three members shall be appointed to two-year terms and two members shall be appointed to one-year terms. Thereafter, as the terms of the appointed members expire, their successors shall be appointed to serve two year terms. Vacancies, other than by expiration of terms, shall be filled for the balance of the term by the town manager, with the approval of the board of selectmen. Every member, unless sooner removed, shall serve until the qualification of a successor.
(c) Three members of the board shall constitute a quorum.
(d) The board shall accept petitions as provided herein on forms approved by the board, and shall determine: the fair and reasonable net operating income as provided in section four and in accordance with standards set forth therein, and whether the rent level is reasonable in relation to that fair and reasonable net operating income.
(e) The board shall promulgate rules and regulations for the conduct of its business as are allowed and are consistent with the provisions of this act and with the provisions of the by-law established hereunder.
(f) The board shall secure such information and conduct such studies, either directly or through other municipal agencies, and may summons such persons, papers, or documents as it finds necessary for the performance of its duties.
(g) The board shall have jurisdiction to accomplish the purpose of this act and the by-law established hereunder over all rental units in the town of Amherst except:
(1) rental units in hotels, motels, inns, and tourist homes which are rented primarily to transient guests for periods of less than fourteen days, and rental units in rooming or boarding houses in which the tenant petitioner has resided for a period of three months or less;
(2) rental units which a governmental unit, agency, or authority either owns, operates, regulates, insures the mortgage of, finances, or subsidizes; or rental units with respect to which the application of this act or by-law would constitute an inconsistency or conflict with any federal or state statute, regulation or other law; or rental units which a governmental unit, agency or authority finances or subsidizes, if the imposition of rent regulation would result in the cancellation or withdrawal, by law, of such financing or subsidy;
(3) rental units in any hospital, convent, monastery, asylum, public institution, or college or school dormitory used exclusively for charitable or educational purposes;
(4) rental units in nursing homes and rest homes for the aged; and
(5) rental units in owner-occupied one, two, or three-family dwellings.
(h) The board shall provide in writing a comprehensive annual report of its activities to the annual town meeting.
(i) The board may, on its own motion or upon the request of the landlord or a tenant petitioning the board, join the petitions for a consolidated hearing.
(j) If the board shall determine that a rental unit which is before it for decision is comparable to other rental unit or units within the building or complex, it shall have the authority to render decisions which shall apply to said other unit or units by first giving seven days written notice to the landlord and the tenant or tenants of such other unit or units, stating that they have the right to appear and be heard. The board's decision shall take into adequate account the degree of comparability.
SECTION 4. Standards. (a) The board shall regulate or modify rent levels when it has determined the fair and reasonable net operating income as provided in this section and in accordance with standards set forth herein, and has determined that the rent level is not reasonable in relation thereto.
(b) The following factors, which the board by regulation shall define, shall be considered in determining whether a rent level of a rental unit yields a fair and reasonable net operating income:
(1) Increases or decreases in property taxes and assessments;
(2) Unavoidable increases or any decreases in operating and maintenance expenses;
(3) Capital improvement of the rental unit as distinguished from ordinary repair, replacement, and maintenance;
(4) Increases or decreases in living space, services, furniture, furnishings, or equipment;
(5) Substantial deterioration of the rental unit other than as a result of ordinary wear and tear; and
(6) Failure to perform ordinary repair, replacement, and maintenance.
The board shall consider all factors which it deems relevant to its determination of the fair and reasonable net operating income, including but not limited to, those enumerated in this subsection.
(c) The board shall deny rent increases when it determines that the affected premises do not comply with chapter two of the State Sanitary Code, the State Building Code, or any other applicable municipal code, by-law, or state law, regulating the conditions of residential housing accommodations and that the landlord has received notice of such noncompliance and has not, within seven days of receipt of such notice, taken appropriate steps to cause the unit to become compliant with such law.
(d) The board shall deny a rent increase in any tenancy at will where it finds that the landlord has not served the tenant at will with a written notice to quit including an offer to establish a new tenancy pursuant to section twelve of chapter one hundred and eighty-six of the General Laws.
(e) The board may allow a rent increase if it determines that the tenant is more than thirty days in arrears in tendering rent, unless such arrearage is due to a withholding of rent pursuant to, and in compliance with, the provisions of section one hundred and twenty-seven L of chapter one hundred and eleven or section eight A of chapter two hundred and thirty-nine of the General Laws.
SECTION 5. Hearings. (a) Within thirty days of receipt of a petition of a tenant presenting a dispute concerning a rent level in a unit which is not exempt under section three of this act, or under the by-law established hereunder, or a petition of a landlord or tenant requesting modification of an order of the board, the board shall conduct a hearing to settle said dispute in a fair and equitable manner and to adjust the rent level of the rental unit involved if the rent level is unreasonable in relation to the fair and reasonable net operating income as provided in section four and in accordance with the standards set forth therein.
(b) All parties to any such hearing shall have the right to present evidence to the board and to be represented by counsel before the board.
(c) The board shall allow the landlord in each case a fair and reasonable net operating income, in accordance with standards established in section four.
(d) Every decision of the board shall be rendered within fourteen days of the close of the hearing. The decision shall be in writing, and parties to the proceedings shall be notified of the decision in person or by mail. A copy of the decision shall be filed with the town clerk.
(e) Any orders issued by the board shall remain in effect for a period of one year unless modified by the board. Orders shall be modified only upon a finding by the board of a significant change in circumstances or of new evidence which the petitioner could not have reasonably been expected to discover through reasonable diligence at the time of the hearing.
SECTION 6. Judicial Review. (a) Any party to the proceeding aggrieved by the action of the board may file a civil action against the board in the Northampton division of the district court department of the trial court, or in any housing court having jurisdiction, within thirty days of the date on which the decision was filed with the town clerk. The court shall review and decide such action pursuant to the standards set forth in paragraph seven of section fourteen of chapter thirty A of the General Laws.
(b) The Northampton division of the district court department of the trial court, or such housing court, shall have jurisdiction to enjoin any violation of this act or any provision of the by-law established hereunder.
SECTION 7. Civil Remedies. (a) Any person who demands, accepts, receives, or retains any payment of rent in excess of the amount authorized by the board during the one-year effective period provided in paragraph (e) of section five shall be liable to the person from whom such payment is demanded, accepted, received, or retained for reasonable attorney's fees and costs as determined by the court, plus liquidated damages in the amount of four hundred dollars.
(b) The board shall be authorized to seek enforcement of its orders in the Northampton division of the district court department of the trial court.
SECTION 8. Evictions. (a) Any landlord of residential property within the town of Amherst which is not exempt under the provisions of section three or under the by-law established hereunder may not file a summary process complaint against a tenant for a period of one year after the tenant has filed a petition with the board except pursuant to paragraph (c) of this section.
(b) The filing of a summary process complaint against a tenant within the one year period following the filing of a petition by the tenant with the board shall create a rebuttable presumption of reprisal within the meaning of section eighteen of chapter one hundred and eighty-six and section two A of chapter two hundred and thirty-nine of the General Laws.
(c) The presumption of paragraph (b) of this section shall be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence that the landlord's action was not a reprisal against the tenant and that the landlord had sufficient independent justification for taking such action, and would have in fact taken such action, in the same manner and at the same time the action was taken, regardless of the tenant having filed a petition with the board.
SECTION 9. The action taken at the special town meeting of the town of Amherst held on February twenty-sixth, nineteen hundred and eighty-six on Article 4, adding a new by-law establishing a housing review board is hereby validated, ratified and confirmed as if this act was in effect at said time.
SECTION 10. Chapter seven hundred and six of the acts of nineteen hundred and eighty-five is hereby repealed.
SECTION 11. This act shall take effect upon its passage.