Court Upholds Fines for Roommate Rentals

A Massachusetts appellate court upheld a city ordinance requiring landlords who rent to roommates to follow special rules.

In this case, the city of Worcester passed a law requiring landlords to obtain a lodging license if they rent their property out to three or more unrelated roommates.

According to a news report, the court also upheld contempt citations that had been issued against five landlords who challenged the city’s law.

The fines levied against the landlords are significant –over $7,000 in one case.

The landlords each have properties close to a local college and at the time each property was leased to four students, according to the report.

The city has filed cases against other landlords who have not yet appealed.

The lawyer for the landlords who lost in court last week told the reporter that he plans additional appeals.

The court found the city has the right to regulate health and safety, which encompasses overcrowding. But landlords say the law is unnecessarily burdensome because it may require updates — like sprinkler systems,  in lodging houses but not private homes.

Landlords, especially those who own properties in college towns, are concerned that recent zoning enforcement efforts are in response to complaints from locals who simply don’t like having rental properties in their neighborhoods, rather than legitimate concerns for safety. Those safety rules often apply only to rentals, and not to adjacent properties which are privately-owned, even when those private homes are poorly maintained.

Previous cases in Massachusetts upholding the right to regulate occupancy in rentals refers favorably to persons living in households versus those who live in lodging arrangements.

The attorney for the landlords suggests that the law as stated may have unintended consequences for multifamily buildings, and also single-family residences that house occupants other than students–like nuns or single professionals, according to the report.

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