Letter: Inspections Mandated by New Bylaw Violate Renters Rights


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The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on April 3, 2024

I understand that the Amherst Town Council is going to be bringing a Residential Rental Bylaw proposal to a vote on Monday, April 8. I was struck by what I’ve read in this proposal, that residential rental dwellings are to be subjected to obligatory and regular unit inspections by the town, with attending fees and fines.

This agenda should be highly offensive to any American. The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is part of our Bill of Rights. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets requirements for issuing warrants: warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate, justified by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. In 1780, the Massachusetts Constitution also enshrined for us the very same protections from an oppressive government.

Why would Amherst seek to give to itself such unconstitutional powers? Without a reason to enter a dwelling, we are by law protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.

What might be the grounds for a reasonable search and/or seizure? An aggravating smell, complaints from a neighbor about some problem seen or heard, evidence of flooding, fire, trash, broken windows, other damage to property, dead animals, or a disturbance of some kind. Without evidence of any kind, there is no reason for residents to willingly relinquish their rights to live in peace, unmolested by a tyrannical government – even if that government is a tiny town council. I’m a long-time renter. Like owners, renters should expect the same deference – and I feel that I do have the support of the management of my complex, Puffton Village, in this regard, that my home, though rented, is still my castle. I’ve felt that I’ve enjoyed the respect and consideration of the maintenance workers as well. When problems arise, they are managed. There’s no justifiable reason for the Town of Amherst to remove our essential rights.

I hope that Amherst Town Council will reconsider their vote in this matter. Instituting this arbitrary residential rental inspection program is simply a costly and unnecessary overreach to try to resolve issues better handled in more collaborative ways. 

Dinah Kudatsky

Dinah Kudatsky is a resident of Amherst.

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13 thoughts on “Letter: Inspections Mandated by New Bylaw Violate Renters Rights

  1. I sent my letter today, as well:
    To Whom it May Concern:

    As a longtime resident of Colonial Village in Amherst, I’m writing to state my strongest possible objections to the implementation of the Revised Rental Registration bylaw. Not only is it a violation of privacy, it will increase rents while many already struggle to retain their residences, it will cause undue ongoing endemic stress, could pose a health risk to some and is ultimately a redundant an unnecessary waste of time and money.

    For many, myself included, privacy is of the utmost importance, especially concerning having control, knowledge of, or at the very least some input as to the if, when & who regarding maintenance or anyone else entering my home. It renders residents feeling insecure about the safety and sanctuary of their homes and their right to be left alone if that is their preference. This revised bylaw will leave many tenants feeling powerless, vulnerable, anxious and angry that their rights and space have been infringed upon.

    The cost of the Rental Registration bylaw will inevitably be passed along to Lessees. This will result in renting being cost prohibitive for many It will cause exorbitant undue stress on those of us already struggling to pay the bills, purchase groceries and medications, and those attempting to obtain or retain housing security.

    The bylaw will also represent a health concern for those susceptible to the worst outcomes of Covid and could result in negative health ramifications for those with social anxiety or other conditions that can be exacerbated by strangers entering their homes. Although masks can mitigate the Covid risk, they are not foolproof and some health issues may prevent residents from wearing a protective mask themselves.

    Lastly, I believe the bylaw to be redundant. Colonial Village does very thorough yearly mandatory inspections, as well as timely and efficient repairs as needed. If there are irresponsible Landlords, they should be targeted specifically, but a blanket bylaw is a blatant violation of tenants rights to privacy, will invariably result in exigent and avoidable stress and health concerns for many,.and a wasteful drain on finances for all parties involved.

    Please pursue a more conservative and less intrusive course of action that does NOT render renters 2nd class citizens who do not share the same rights to privacy as homeowners.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Concerned Amherst Renter

  2. Laura Emberley,
    Thank you for adding your eloquent voice to the discussion. I appreciate in particular your emphasis on the redundant nature of the town’s by-law proposal. Landlords who are negligent or unresponsive to property-related problems can and should be dealt with individually. The “blanket” treatment proposed by the Town Council is a sort of “collective punishment” for the few badly managed rental spaces. As a member of the Jimmy Carter administration said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Hopefully, the town will be responsive to our voices.

  3. I see this bylaw differently. Businesses that serve food get regular inspections, cars get inspected yearly, etc. Here we have landlords having their properties inspected regularly to insure that their premises are safe–no bad wiring, leaking pipes, unsafe furnaces, floors with holes, lack of fire and carbon monoxide alarms, rodents, sagging ceiling, etc. We live in a town where the majority of homes are rented and where the majority of renters are young students who are ill-informed about building codes. They have few alternatives to get apts and too often settle for substandard, unsafe and expensive apartments. Few know their rights under Massachusetts housing law or have the means to exercise these rights. If you are a landlord with properties that are safe and meet safety codes, you are good. If not, then you will have to make repairs. Landlords do not have property rights to rent substandard housing that endangers tenants and violate state law. Also, landlords enter their rental properties, with advance notice, for all sort of reasons. A rental apartment is not owned by the tenants nor is it their castle and they cannot bar entry to all. The goal of this bylaw is safe housing for renters. That’s it. It’s a good goal and a needed bylaw revision.

  4. Janet, when a landlord rents a property out, they are exchanging possession of the property for rent. The tenant is entitled to their quiet enjoyment, as well as their peace, privacy and use of the space as if it is their own.

    I know you mean well in your intentions, but these two residents are literally expressing their concerns about the amendments to the bylaw and you are disregarding their statements with regards to what has been proposed and what they have to say while treating them as if they are not entitled to their own space or the opportunity to speak up. “A rental apartment is not owned by the tenants nor is it their castle” seems to be telling them they don’t deserve their own peace and privacy.

    Also, when a student is looking to move off campus, there is a training program, through the university, that they can navigate to get better informed. I agree that we as a town can do a better job of outreach to residents to remind them of their rights. I think an annual letter, in September or October, to all of the units would go a long way to remind everyone, students, young professionals, families, immigrants, etc. of what options they have in the event they are living in substandard conditions.

    Final note in this particular discussion, a Town Council person said it best when they said that the construct of this amendment “seems to be like sending a fire truck to every house when there are only a few fires in town” (not the exact quote, but the point is still apparent). Increasing the cost of business for all rental properties through this amendment is not a good use of our human resources when we already have methods in place to address concerns today and we are not navigating those channels. There are vulnerable populations who will suffer more than you realize when rents continue to increase on account of this bylaw.

    Town Council Members should vote “No” for this amendment.

  5. I own a rental property and am well aware of all the legal rights of tenants and respect them. At the same time, I go into my units and work in the yard when I need to. Many repair people also have been in the units, on the roof or in the yard. Tenants have a property right in their unit and quiet enjoyment, but not an absolute right to keep anyone out without a search warrant. Having a building inspector visit a rental unit to make sure it is safe and up to code is just like sending a plumber over to check on pipes or a washing machine or to make a repair. Or me coming over periodically to check on things, paint a door or to install yet another fire and carbon monoxide detector (which constantly disappear). As a landlord, I do not have a right to prevent government officials to check on the condition of my property, just as owners of restaurants or other business cannot prevent safety inspections. The bylaw amendment’s goal is not to harass tenants. The goal is to enforce building codes and protect their safety.

  6. If rental properties and hence, renters, are problems to homeowners, then homeowners should bear the cost of inspections as part of the tax base. It is not fair to push this cost onto folks who can’t afford to be home owners. Many, if not most, renters in this town are families not college students. (The exact numbers available from the most recent census.)

  7. ” Tenants have a property right in their unit and quiet enjoyment, but not an absolute right to keep anyone out without a search warrant. “

    Wrong. See the US Supreme Court decision of Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967).
    Landlords can inspect after having given 24 hours notice, but any public official/employee must either have permission or get a warrant. I was personally bound by that as Section 8 inspector for the AHA — although at the time the annual inspection was required to continue receiving Section 8 assistance, which is how it was dealt with.

    But if a tenant wants to tell the town inspector to go to hell, the tenant has a Constitutional right to do so.

    I’ve always said that the town is going about this backwards — the better way to do it is to inspect on turnover and to put a 4″ bright orange sticker on the front door that says “Approved by Town of Amherst with a date and initials written in — sorta like what appears on gas pumps. Then on the week that the college kids are moving in hang a banner that says “Concerned about the condition of your child’s apartment, call [someone] at [some number]” Put a town seal at both ends so people know it is official and hang it over the street. You WILL get phone calls…

    You don’t need a warrant to inspect a vacant apartment, and after the first year, you’re going to start getting phone calls from parents asking why their child’s apartment doesn’t have an orange sticker on the door. (This well might include a few apartments you didn’t know existed.)

    The Camera decision is at: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/387/523/

  8. When you are told that something is being done “for your own good,” you can be pretty sure that it’s something you are not going to like, that it is coming from someone with more power than you, and that, if imposed on those individuals, they would protest vigorously against it.

    Amherst’s rental registration bylaw began about 10 years ago as a way to control the obvious problems with some student rentals: Lawns turned into parking lots, the noise problems and aftermath and detritus of parties, inside furniture on the outside. These were quality of life issues that were readily visible and audible, and which disturbed the peaceful enjoyment of the properties of those who lived near them. Yet at some point, the matter morphed into a purported concern for the health and safety of the approximately 50% of Amherst residents who rented, rather than owned, their own home.

    Renters in Amherst are not just undergraduate students. They are working adults, with and without families; disabled individuals receiving housing subsidies; retired individuals in their 70s, 80s, and 90s; undocumented immigrants and their families; foreign graduate students and their young children. Implying that their status as renters somehow makes them less capable of assuring their own health and safety reduces them to second-class citizens in need of government intervention; it also paints landlords as predatory individuals who must be watched because their only concern is money.

    I have worked with disabled clients who have to undergo annual inspections. Each one has dreaded these moments, and their anxiety is through the roof. They live in fear of failing their inspections and possibly losing their housing for trivial things such as an extension cord deemed to be a tripping hazard, or a counter top deemed too small for food preparation because it also has a row of cookbooks. Inspections that are allegedly for the safety of residents often seem directed toward residents and how they live their daily lives, rather than toward the condition of the property itself.

    Further, to implement this oversight through an expanded town department paid for with fees charged to landlords – which will be passed on to tenants – in effect creates an enterprise fund borne by only half of the residents in town, many of whom already struggle to pay skyrocketing rents. What good is a safe and healthy residence if you cannot afford to pay for it? If the town truly wanted to focus on the safety of its rental units, the best solution would be one similar to how inspections are done in the city of Malden: Before a new tenancy begins. It’s simple, it makes sense, it identifies problems with the actual structure, it does not require a large increase in staff, and it eliminates the emotional wear and tear and invasion of privacy felt by many renters.

    The presumption that home ownership somehow guarantees that a residence will be safe and healthy is hardly based on fact. Even in Amherst, it is likely that there are homeowners who struggle to maintain the standards that will soon be applied to rental properties. Should the town simply mandate the inspection of all residences in town in order to ensure everyone’s safety? Then again, the town itself struggles to maintain its own infrastructure in safe and healthy conditions. Witness the state of Amherst’s roads, school roofs, Central Fire Station, and DPW building. This bylaw should be returned to the drawing board for serious and sensible revisions.

  9. To Ed Cutting:
    You have experience in this matter, so everyone should welcome your input. “Inspect on turnover”. I love your idea. It’s so simple and sensible – a thing of beauty!

  10. Dinah,
    That’s a terrific idea for folks like you who never move. The problem is that there are many turnovers between May 25 – June 1 and August 25 to September 1 in the academic population (students and faculty). It would be nearly impossible for the Town to do more than a useless cursory inspection between tenants.

  11. I’m still waiting for Cinda’s answer to student behavior. Not sure this new bylaw will solve any of those issues and haven’t heard of any changes to address it from the town. Our experience having student rentals on each side of us and on most of the street is, “renters” have had all kinds of rights when it comes to the wrong kind of behavior. Paula and I do not like to bother the Police, but those days are over. That seems to be our only alternative having tried “asking nicely”, the “take our numbers” routine because that backfired on us by them having our numbers after we text or call and getting harassed after and the “party registration” joke which means the damage is already done when they get the call. Quiet, peaceful neighborhoods deserve to be just that. If something has been addressed to improve student behavior that we missed, please advise. Thanks.

  12. More than 10 years ago, when looking for rental properties to invest in, I was shocked at the number of truly awful places we were shown that are rented to students. As a professor, I have been told of numerous egregious health and safety violations that landlords subject our students to in our own town. Sewer in the basement, heating that does not work, toilets that don’t flush properly, serious electrical issues etc… As a current landlord of two properties in town that we maintain ourselves, I have NO objection to the policy in question. When we need to do work on one of our properties or to do our inspection of the smoke and CO2 detectors, we check with our tenants first, establish a time that works for them and do it. It seems obvious to me that those landlords against this bill actually have something to hide.

  13. Three things on smoke detectors — they work by having a radiation source (memory is Americium) send alpha particles across a gap to a receiver that is waiting to receive them. Now think of driving in the fog or a snowstorm with your high beams on — the fog or snow reflects back the light and hence it doesn’t get to the road.

    Smoke — and even the ionization products of fires just starting — does the same thing. It blocks these particles, which are very easy to block (we aren’t talking gamma particles here) and hence they don’t get to the receptor. The receptor says “I didn’t get as many particles as I was supposed to, hence there is smoke blocking them” and it trips the alarm. And the failsafe here is that it doesn’t care *why* it didn’t get them — it trips the alarm and lets the occupant (or the AFD) figure out why it didn’t.

    Now the problem is that Americium is decaying — think water in a leaky bucket — and there is less of it there today than there was yesterday. (And they don’t put much in there because it is radioactive.) So after 10 years from when the smoke detector was MANUFACTURED (not installed), you don’t have enough Americium left to produce enough alpha particles to keep the receptor happy. This is where you start getting a lot of nuisance alarms where moisture from a shower or even air moving through the building trips the alarm — because you are already at the point where you almost don’t have enough alpha particles getting to the receptor in the first place.

    So people take the batteries out of them. I know of at least one fatal fire by Puffer’s Pond, circa ’03 or ’04, where the AFD recovered a smoke detector without a battery in it.

    POINT #1: If it is more than 10 years old, replace it. If for no other reason, replace it because you don’t need the hassle of not having done it (e.g. a fire, etc…).

    POINT #2: Batteries do need to be replaced, preferably annually (although they usually last two years). One large landlord who will remain nameless tried to make their tenants replace the batteries which worked just about as well as you might guess, and if it wasn’t illegal, it should be. (The AHA made a policy decision that the AHA would buy and install batteries, and I would have paid for them myself if the AHA hadn’t because they are not that expensive.)

    REPLACE THE D**N BATTERIES — all you need is former tenants showing up in court and testifying that you don’t routinely do that after a fatal fire or something — it’s not worth the 90 cents….

    POINT #3: I know how people freak out over “radiation” and things that are “radioactive” — but granite is also radioactive. (It’s where radon gas comes from — and *that* is serious, but I digress.) It’s a different story if you rip the smoke detector off the ceiling and repeatedly stomp on it (as one of my clients used to do), but as long as you don’t dismember the device, it is perfectly safe. Really, it is — every bit as safe as a banana, which is also radioactive.

    (Now I’m not sure how you appropriately dispose of old ones, I don’t think you are supposed to throw them into the trash, but someone in Town Hall ought to know.)

    PLEASE buy new smoke detectors folks, I know many of you don’t like Walmart and I respect that, but Walmart isn’t the only place selling them. And they aren’t that expensive.

    As to CO detectors, while code doesn’t call for it, I always suggested having *two* of them, of different brands, because if they *both* go off at the same time, there is no doubt that this is real because they are not going to both malfunction at the same time… And I believe that those also have expiration dates as well.

    Here is a Youtube video on smoke detectors: https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffab&q=how+a+smoke+detector+works&iax=videos&ia=videos&iai=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DX6wJE-4BLM0

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