Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives
in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same,
SECTION 1. 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 the public health, safety, and general welfare of the residents of Amherst; and that such emergency should be met by the commonwealth immediately with due regard for the rights and responsibilities of the town of Amherst.
SECTION 2. The town of Amherst is hereby authorized to establish, by by-law, a housing review board, hereinafter referred to as the board, to accept petitions by tenants on a form approved by the board, and to determine when rent levels appear, in the judgment of the board, to be excessive and unreasonable.
SECTION 3. 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. Members shall be appointed to two-year terms and two shall be appointed to one-year terms. Vacancies, other than by reason of expiration of terms, shall be filled by the town manager, with the approval of the board of selectmen.
Three members of the board shall constitute a quorum.
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.
The board shall have jurisdiction to accomplish the purpose of this act 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, finances, or subsidizes; (3) rental units in any hospital, convent, monastery, asylum, public institution, or college or school dormitory operated 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 homes.
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.
SECTION 4. The board may regulate or modify rent levels which it finds after a hearing to be unreasonable or excessive.
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. However, the board may allow a rental increase in any case 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 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.
The board shall deny a rent increase in any case where it finds that the landlord has not served the tenant 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.
SECTION 5. Within thirty days of receipt of a petition of a tenant or tenants presenting a rental dispute, the board shall conduct a hearing to settle said dispute in a fair and equitable manner and to adjust the rent of the rental unit involved, if said unit is not exempt under section three, in a fair and reasonable manner, and to determine whether a decision in a particular case applies to other, comparable rental units within the same building or apartment complex, and the board shall allow the landlord in each case a fair and reasonable net operating income, in accordance with such standards as shall be established by the board.
Every decision of the board shall be rendered within fourteen days of the close of a hearing. The decision shall be in writing and parties to the proceedings shall be notified of the decision in person or by mail.
Any orders issued by the board shall remain in effect for a period of one year unless modified by the board.
SECTION 6. Any aggrieved party 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 receipt of a decision by the board. The court shall review and decide such action pursuant to the standards set forth in paragraph (7) of section fourteen of chapter thirty A of the General Laws. 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.
SECTION 7. Any person who demands, accepts, receives, or retains any payment of rent in excess of the amount authorized by the board shall be liable to the person from whom such payment is demanded, accepted, received, or retained, or to the municipality, for reasonable attorney's fees and costs as determined by the court, plus liquidated damages in the amount of four hundred dollars.
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. The board shall provide in writing a comprehensive annual report of its activities to town meeting in May of each year.
SECTION 9. Any owner of residential property within the town of Amherst which is not exempt under the provisions of section three may not bring eviction proceedings against a tenant for a period of one year after the tenant has filed a complaint with the board, unless (1) the tenant has failed to pay the rent to which the landlord is entitled; (2) the tenant has violated an obligation or covenant of his tenancy other than the obligation to surrender possession upon proper notice and has failed to cure such violation after having received notice thereof from the landlord; (3) the tenant is committing or permitting to exist a nuisance in or is causing substantial interference with the comfort, safety, or enjoyment of the landlord or other occupants of the same or any adjacent accommodation; (4) the tenant is convicted of using or permitting the rental unit to be used for any illegal purpose; (5) the tenant, following the termination of a written lease or rental agreement after this act has taken effect, has refused, after written request or demand by the landlord, to execute a written extension or renewal thereof for a further term of like duration and on such terms that are not inconsistent with or violative of any provisions of law; (6) the tenant has refused the landlord reasonable access to the unit for the purpose of making necessary repairs or improvements required by the laws of the United States, the commonwealth, or the town of Amherst, or for the purpose of inspection as permitted or required by the lease or by law, or for the purpose of showing the rental unit to any prospective purchaser or mortgagor; (7) the person holding at the end of a lease term is a subtenant not approved by the landlord; (8) the landlord seeks to recover possession in good faith for use and occupancy of himself, or his children, parents, brother, sister, father-in-law, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, or son-in-law; (9) the landlord seeks to recover possession to demolish or otherwise remove the unit from housing use; or (10) the landlord seeks to recover possession for any other just cause, provided that his purpose is not in conflict with the provisions and purpose of this act.
SECTION 10. This act shall take effect upon its passage.