Greenwich To Officially Establish Fair Rent Commission

GREENWICH, CT — Greenwich will officially have a fair rent commission, as mandated by the state, following approval from the Representative Town Meeting on Monday night.

The RTM voted 128 in favor, 41 opposed with five abstentions to approve a fair rent commission ordinance, which includes the creation of a fair rent commission.

Public Act 22-30 requires any Connecticut municipality with a population of 25,000 or more to create a fair rent commission.

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According to the Act, the fair rent commission shall make studies and investigations, conduct hearings and receive complaints about rental charges on housing and accommodations, except those accommodations rented on a seasonal basis within its jurisdiction, in order to control and eliminate excessive rental charges.

In determining whether a rental charge or a proposed increase is excessive and “harsh and unconscionable,” the commission shall consider the following circumstances, according to the ordinance:

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Among its duties, the commission will be able to compel people to attend hearings, issue subpoenas and administer oaths, the ordinance states.

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Greenwich had been the lone qualifying municipality without such an ordinance before Monday night.

The Board of Selectmen passed along a drafted proposal for a fair rent ordinance last year, and the RTM took up the item in September. A Fair Rent Ordinance Special Committee was formed then to analyze the mandate closely.

Patty Roberts, board chair of Greenwich Human Services, urged the RTM to pass the ordinance and establish the commission.

“No one likes the state to tell you what to do, so I’m the first to say I’m sorry it moved forward, but I think it’s the right thing and I think that the drafted ordinance with the amendments that have been approved reflects the town values,” Roberts said. “I think Greenwich will be a better place for having a method for tenants and landlords to get together.”

Roberts noted that “this is not rent control.”

“A rent control indicates that the commission would say, ‘Your rent can’t go above that [number].’ That is not the case,” she added. “They’re going to be benchmarking against comparable properties. The rents could go up 40 percent, then the tenant, if it goes up 70 percent, has an avenue to talk to somebody.”

Most cases are solved in mediation, Roberts said. “You get two people together, you make a compromise and you move on.”

David Snyder, an RTM member from District 6 who was a part of the Fair Rent Ordinance Special Committee, said that he reached out to other towns to find out what the “lived experiences” were of a fair rent commission.

“There’s one big common denominator: a vast majority of the inquiries were informational in nature, and people would come, they’d learn what their rights are and what they can do about it, and they were dealt with in that initial interaction with the department,” Snyder said. “Those that came with a complaint were mediated quickly and did not require a commission hearing.”

The commission will consist of seven regular members and three alternates, all of whom shall be electors of the town.

Of the seven regular members, at least one shall be a landlord or a professional property manager, and at least one shall be a tenant, the ordinance states.

Members and alternates shall be nominated by the Greenwich Board of Selectmen and appointed by the RTM. Terms will be for three years.

One amendment was made to the proposed ordinance Monday night.

Francia Alvarez, a member of District 12 and the Fair Rent Ordinance Special Committee, put forward a motion to reduce the “threshold of action” form five votes to four votes, out of the seven commission members.

“The Fair Rent Committee set the bar too high to be fair and effective by asking for a higher threshold for action. We need to reset requirements to four affirmative votes,” Alvarez said. “As was said earlier in the evening, it is the residents who are experiencing food and rent insecurity that need these kinds of changes the most.”

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