SPRINGFIELD — Apartment owners will have to register with the town, if a new ordinance, which had its first review Monday night, goes through.
The proposed “rental registry ordinance” is designed to give Springfield fire officials a better idea of how many people live at a specific address, Town Manager Robert Forguites said during Monday’s first reading.
The ordinance, which was first discussed last year in the wake of a violent shooting in downtown Springfield, would require people to register their apartments, or face fines. The registration would then trigger an inspection by local and state fire safety officials and require a “certificate of fitness.”
Coincidentally, there was a major apartment building fire in Springfield early Monday morning that left 17 people homeless.
Select Board member David Yesman, who is also a landlord with several apartments, questioned why, if the stated purpose was fire safety, apartments were being singled out under the proposed ordinance.
Large homes with a single person living there could pose similar problems for firefighters, he said.
Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda, who helped draft the ordinance along with Forguites and Select Board members Stephanie Gibson and Michael Knoras, said the current intent was fire safety.
Firefighters arrive at the scene of a large apartment building and don’t know how many people live there or where in the house.
A family would know about how many family members lived there and where, Ankuda said.
At a large apartment building, cut up into smaller apartments, not everyone knows everyone who lives there and where, Ankuda said.
Ankuda said there “were a lot of side benefits” to the rental registry, and that “protecting tenants” was one of them.
Yesman said if the state fire protection crews started doing regular inspections, landlords could face expensive repairs or upgrades to their apartments, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
“It wouldn’t be a cheap apartment any more,” said Yesman.
Town officials have long complained that Springfield shoulders an unfair share of subsidized or low-income housing in Windsor County, something they have made no secret they would like to see change.
How the ordinance would be publicized and enforced concerned Board Chairman Kristi Morris.
Bill Kearns, the town’s zoning officer, suggested a notice go out in the tax bills, once the ordinance is adopted.
Under the ordinance, all apartments should be registered by the end of 2013, Kearns said.
Many of the apartments in town that are already subject to government inspection would be exempted from the ordinance, Kearns said.
But it is the private apartments that the town wants to learn about and establish a database, Kearns said.
Under the enforcement of the ordinance, any fine or repair order could be appealed to the town manager, and then it would head to court, Ankuda said.
A second reading of the proposed ordinance is slated for April 22, during the Select Board’s second meeting in April.
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