Restrictions on Rental Units Eyed
LOWELL -- Landlords, tenants, neighborhood activists and officials packed the City Council Chamber Tuesday evening as they debated the future of off-campus housing and rental properties across the city.
In the wake of concerns of overcrowding, fire safety and excessive street parking in neighborhoods, especially Pawtucketville near UMass Lowell, city officials have crafted draft amendments to the rental property ordinance, which would place a limit on the number of students in each bedroom per unit.
Under the proposal, landlords would only be allowed to rent to one student per bedroom, regardless of the size of the bedroom.
“We’re trying to allow for a pathway so a landlord can rent to not more than one unrelated person per bedroom,” Eric Slagle, director of Lowell Development Services, said during a zoning subcommittee meeting on Tuesday.
“There is a housing crisis we’re dealing with, not just in Lowell, not just in Massachusetts. It’s across the country,” he later added. “We want to respond to the issues we’ve heard and come up with a solution.”
Neighborhoods are concerned with growing populations and preserving their character, said City Councilor Edward Kennedy, a member of the zoning subcommittee.
“That’s what we’re really trying to do -- protect neighborhoods from ever-increasing density,” he said.
“There’s a cottage industry for off-campus student housing,” Kennedy added.
For decades, the city has not allowed landlords to rent to more than three unrelated people in one unit. This amendment will not change that.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the “Lowell Property and Business Group” had been spreading misinformation on this issue through an online petition, according to several people at the meeting.
“YOUR STUDENT HOUSING RIGHTS AND CHOICES ARE UNDER ATTACK!” the petition read. “The City of LOWELL is proposing a law that will prohibit more than 2 STUDENTS LIVING IN THE SAME APARTMENT.”
“Please help us oppose this law that will directly target all OFF CAMPUS STUDENT HOUSING and THE FAIR HOUSING LAW!”
Speaking on behalf of the Lowell Property and Business Group, non-resident Marc Gizzi stressed that he and other property owners provide safe, quality housing to students.
“I’ve invested much of my money and my time in Lowell because I believe in Lowell,” he said.
When the city was down, he bought several houses that no one else wanted to buy, Gizzi said.
He spent millions of dollars restoring these homes, he said, which meet all fire safety codes and are fully compliant.
“We make a living off it. I’m not ashamed to say it,” Gizzi said. “These students need to live somewhere.”
As part of the draft amendment, living spaces other than bedrooms -- such as living rooms or dens -- could not be utilized as bedrooms or additional sleeping areas.
In addition, all properties where students live would need to get fitted with a hard-wired fire detection system. In a property with six or more students, the property would need to also be fitted with a fire-suppression sprinkler system.
Also, landlords would not be allowed to give residential parking stickers to these students. Either the owner would need to provide on-site parking, or the students would have to make other off-site parking arrangements.
The parking amendment is intended to alleviate parking problems for neighbors, Slagle said.
But Gizzi said this will “congest more traffic in all different places.”
These amendments have nothing to do with targeting students, said John Hamblet, co-chair of the Pawtucketville Citizens Council.
“This is a citywide concern,” he said.
Other neighborhood group leaders stressed the importance of safety in residential housing units.
Moving forward, Gizzi said the Lowell Property and Business Group wants a seat at the table.
“We feel like it’s not a level-playing field,” he said.
Kennedy said it’s important for the subcommittee to find some middle ground with both groups, and pass an ordinance that can be enforced.
The zoning subcommittee will discuss this issue at future meetings.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.