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More Zoning Enforcement Coming to Rental Units

January 16, 2019 GMT

LOWELL -- Landlords renting to more than three unrelated people in one unit have broken city law for decades.

Officials on Tuesday vowed to step up enforcement, during a packed City Council Zoning Subcommittee meeting that looked at the future of off-campus housing and rental properties across the city.

Neighborhood activists repeated to councilors that they’re frustrated with enforcement.

The residents said they’re concerned with overcrowding, fire safety and excessive street parking in neighborhoods, especially in Pawtucketville near UMass Lowell.

“Maybe you can find other ways to enforce what we already have,” said Deb Forgione, of the Pawtucketville Citizens Council.

City Councilor Jim Milinazzo, who chairs the subcommittee, agreed that the city needs to do a better job with enforcement.

Tuesday’s discussion comes as city officials have crafted draft amendments to the rental property ordinance, which would place a limit on the number of students in each bedroom per unit.

Under the proposal, landlords would only be allowed to rent to one student per bedroom, regardless of the size of the bedroom.

However, it appeared that proposal went to the back burner by the end of Tuesday’s listening session, after input from neighbors, landlords and tenants. Before the meeting, the Lowell Property and Business Group delivered a petition of more than 1,000 signatures against the proposal.

Councilors at the meeting focused on enforcement of the current ordinance -- not renting to more than three unrelated people.

“We need to enforce it so we can feel comfortable in our homes, and feel safe in our homes,” City Councilor Karen Cirillo said.

City Councilor Rodney Elliott said the amendments to the rental property ordinance should be tabled.

He stressed that the city needs more inspectors.

“There are some bad apples we need to focus on, where the attention should be focused,” Elliott said.

As part of the draft amendment, living spaces other than bedrooms -- such as living rooms or dens -- could not be utilized as bedrooms or additional sleeping areas.

In addition, all properties where students live would need to get fitted with a hard-wired fire detection system. In a property with six or more students, the property would need to also be fitted with a sprinkler system.

Also, landlords would not be allowed to give residential parking stickers to these students. Either the owner would need to provide on-site parking, or the students would have to make other off-site parking arrangements.

The Lowell Property and Business Group’s petition addressed the fact that no more than three unrelated people could live together, which has been on the books for decades.

They said this ordinance would affect everyone in the city, including young professionals, modern families and students.

The proposal is the result of a perceived misconception of overcrowding, said George Christman, of the Lowell Property and Business Group.

“This would result in unintended consequences,” he said. “It would affect real estate values and create chaos in the inspection services department.”

Others said the proposal would discriminate against low-income residents.

The Zoning Subcommittee will discuss this issue with the Neighborhoods Subcommittee in the near future.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.