RTM to vote on Fair Rent Commission

Newsletter Volume 2 • Number 40

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Commission would be watchdog for “harsh and unconscionable” rents

More than eight months past a state-mandated deadline, Greenwich is poised to become the last major Connecticut municipality to create a Fair Rent Commission, if the Representative Town Meeting approves enabling legislation on Monday.

Renters make up about one third of households in Greenwich, a significant segment of neighbors who might find themselves in tough straits as a dearth of affordable housing, coupled with inflation, has caused rents to spike. Right now, if a tenant believes they’re being unfairly treated, there’s not much they can do except move, if they can afford even that.

The Fair Rent Commission would offer them an alternative.

  • Its makeup must include at least one landlord or property manager and one tenant, plus alternates, and one commissioner from each interest group must be present at any hearing.
  • It’s empowered to determine whether rent increases are “excessive” by tapping local databases where realtors share listing info (the “MLS”) to form an unbiased rental market assessment.
  • Protections for landlords include the fact that it would take a supermajority of the commission, 5 of the 7 members, to find that an increase is “harsh and unconscionable.”

Promoting informal mediation

Moreover, the commission is not an avenue of first resort. It falls under the Greenwich Department of Human Services, and the ordinance asks that tenants and landlords engage in informal mediation with a staff member before there is a hearing, to see if an agreement can be reached more quickly.

Encouraging compliance with health and safety requirements

If the case goes to the commission, they can adjust the increase, dismiss the claim, phase in an increase over a year, or even delay it if they find the landlord must make property improvements to comply with health and safety requirements.

Some have taken, falsely, to calling this rent control. But Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan, who first put forward the motion, countered that. “This is not even close. This is a way to promote fairness and equity for people who may not otherwise have a voice unless a landlord sues them.”

The Board of Selectmen unanimously adopted a version of the ordinance last summer, after a diverse working group put one together based on a model drafted by the state. An RTM Special Committee has now made several amendments, and voted 4-1-1 in favor. Their goal, they wrote, was to ensure that landlords and tenants were “treated fairly and equitably.”

The committee’s one “no” felt the supermajority vote would make it too hard for tenants to prevail. The lone abstention felt that landlords should control how their properties are rented and how much to charge. Given that split, it seems that the Fair Rent Commission ordinance might be fair indeed.

Representative Rachel Khanna and fellow delegates Steve Meskers and Hector Arzeno breathed new life into the Glenville Corridor Traffic Improvement Project last week.

This eight-year old project quietly slipped from breaking ground in spring 2024 into oblivion, after it vanished from Fred Camillo’s radar and DPW omitted it from this year’s budget. Project delays had led to cost escalations that Republicans on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) said they would not fund. A motion by Democratic BET member Leslie Moriarty to add $1.5 million to the budget to allow the project to proceed was voted down by Republicans in February.

Khanna and fellow members of the state delegation called a meeting last week with the state Department of Transportation, and unlocked their financial support for the Glenville project. This funding is significant, but still leaves a gap after Republicans on the BET voted down the additional $1.5 million funding. Khanna and our House delegation are actively seeking other grants to allow this important safety and quality-of-life project to proceed. Stay tuned. More to come.

Republican factions battle to stalemate

A record number of Greenwich Republicans came out in five neighborhoods Tuesday to vote in primary elections challenging party members who had been installed in January caucuses.The cat fight between groups who variously called each other “bullies” or “RINOs,” has apparently ended in a draw. Each slate appears to have an equal number of elected party members now. Next up: They must vote for town party leaders. Either way it’s a sure thing the next RTC will stay in the thrall of Trump’s MAGA party, so don’t hold your breath.

For your calendar

Meetings can be watched on Greenwich Community Television Channels 24 (Verizon), 79 (Optimum), GCTV on YouTube, or in person at the Town Hall Meeting Room.

Old Greenwich and Riverside. Traffic and pedestrian safety open house with DPW. March 18, 6:00-8:00 pm. Town Hall Meeting Room.

Volume 2, Number 40 • March 7, 2024
Paid for by the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.
Greenwich Democratic Town Committee P.O. Box 126 Greenwich, CT 06836