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Fair Rent Commission Fails to be Established

The Town Council was tasked with the duty by the state of establishing a Fair Rent Commission by 7/1/2023. Because the Town Council failed to adopt an ordinance in time, it is now longer compliant with state requirements. There was advanced notification and the Council's inaction places Wallingford in a position where potential penalties could be levied, which is unacceptable.

See below for a news item from the Record Journal. 



Council fails to agree on ordinance

By Kate Ramunni Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — With only days to meet the state-imposed deadline, the Town Council last week failed to agree on an ordinance that would create a Fair Rent Commission, sending it back to its Ordinance Committee.

In 2022, the state legislature passed a bill that requires municipalities without fair rent commissions to create one by July 1, 2023.

The council’s Ordinance Committee discussed the requirement at its June 6 meeting and sent it to the full council, which had until Saturday to act.

But several councilors had concerns, and with only six of the nine members in attendance, the proposal failed to get the required five votes necessary for passage.

The consequences of failing to create the commission weren’t clear, but Town Attorney Janis Small said it could endanger future efforts for obtaining state grants.

According to state law, fair rent commissions can “control and eliminate excessive rental charges and carry out certain landlord-tenant statutes,” having the power to conduct studies or investigations; hold hearings; receive rent complaints; require people to appear at hearings; issue subpoenas and administer oaths and issue, continue, review, amend, terminate, or suspend their orders and decisions.

“This is something that passed the legislature in the prior term. We are supposed to have a fair rent ordinance in effect by Saturday,” Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said.

Resident Mike Glidden, who has filed paperwork to run for the council, said he believes there needs to be representation from different interested parties on the commission.

“I would suggest adding a licensed realtor or appraiser, one member be a tenant and one member be a landlord,” he told the council. “The reason why I’m suggesting these changes is it would be providing a perspective from the real estate market that could speak to the current market conditions of rentals in Wallingford. Secondly, issues with landlords — what is their perspective with what an excessive rental increase is. Lastly, from the whole humanistic perspective, the renter has a say in the game, what it’s like to rent from someone in town. Then you’re casting a net looking for people with expertise and broader experiences in this subject.”

Councilor Craig Fishbein, who is also a state representative and voted against the bill in Hartford, said he also doesn’t support it on the local level.

“The fact that this is on our agenda, I don’t want anyone to get the opinion that we have a problem in town,” he said. “This is something that the legislature is ramming down the throats of every municipality that has a population in excess of 45,000. I reviewed it up there and I reviewed it again today. There’s a lot of problems here.”

The state statute in many places is subjective, he said, and limits local control.

“The statute really doesn’t give us a lot of control here. The statute has a criteria but the criteria in various places is subjective,” he said. “This group is supposed to make such studies and investigations regarding rental housing in the town as appropriate to carry out their duties. So I don’t know what that means. They’re empowering them for anything they think is appropriate.”

It’s important to get the right people to serve on the commission, Small said, and to clearly delineate what their role is.

“I think you need to take great care in who you select to be on here. It’s a lot of work as you know. It’s a very detailed and very complicated law,” she said, adding that it would be a good idea to create a manual to guide them.

“You need to consider the experience of people being put on this committee. Obviously the Law Department is going to have to be heavily involved with this commission so I think creating a manual would be a good idea,” she said.

Fishbein said a Fair Rent Commission would have considerable power and could create “a monster.”

“I’m concerned about the monster that we make and that the state makes us make,” Fishbein said.

“When we say that a body is entitled to make investigations — those investigations may entail why private property owners aren’t renting more of their property to individuals. We could go down various paths and the fact is that we are empowering this group to issue subpoenas.”

“Usually there is a procedure to oppose or object and you file something with the court to bring an action. That’s not contemplated here at all,” he said.

“The fact through this ordinance we are telling them they have the power to compel and that’s not true. I’m concerned because we have a housing inspector who is empowered to bring an action but here we’re giving this group a collateral adjudicative process and there could be a conflict. The housing inspector has certain training that is required. No such training is required of these individuals. This board can order the reduction of a rent to an amount that is fair and equitable.

What does that mean? Is there any guidance in terms of equity in rent?”

The commission should rely on the work of the local housing department to assist them, Small said, because the town already has a process in place to address these issues.

“Then they are all on the same page,” she said. “Obviously at some point in time you’re making a judgment, ‘Harsh and unconscionable’ is a very high threshold. That really needs to be well defined.”

“There are a lot of philosophical concerns but at the end of the day it is our statutory duty to create this commission and this isn’t giving people free rent, this isn’t a handout and it’s also not tying the hands of landlords from charging a rental rate that they can get,” Councilor Sam Carmody said. “This commission protects the rights of individuals from being charged rent that’s excessive. What this does is it creates a fair process to protect individual renters from being charged excessively so I am certainly in support of this.”

“I don’t think anyone expects us to achieve perfection with the first draft,” Councilor Vincent Testa said. “We will always be able to redo this so I think in general this is a very well put together ordinance and we should approve it and move on.”

Fishbein and Councilor Christina Tatta voted against the item.

With Councilors Joseph Marrone, Autumn Allinson and Jason Zandri absent, the four yes votes weren’t enough to approve it so it will go back to the Ordinance Committee for further consideration.

Paid for by:
Jesse Reynolds for Town Council,
Kristi Doerr, Treasurer

Approved by:
Jesse Reynolds
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