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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Norwich establishes fair rent commission per state law

    Norwich ― The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance to create a fair rent commission as required by a state law for municipalities with populations of over 25,000.

    The deadline to establish the commission is July 1.

    The ordinance created a three-member fair rent commission, members to be appointed by the City Council, with at least one member being a landlord and at least one member being a tenant. Two alternates would include a landlord and a tenant. All must be registered Norwich voters and will have two-year terms with reappointments allowed.

    Mayor Peter Nystrom said the appointment process for the new commission would follow the same application process as for other city boards and commissions. The applications will be posted online, and the City Council Appointments/Reappointments Committee will interview applicants. Nystrom said there is no schedule for making the appointments and for the commission to hold its first meeting.

    Few people spoke at Monday’s public hearing. Resident Rebecca Melucci told the council she is interested in serving on the commission. Melucci said she has served on other boards in Norwich, including the Senior Affairs Committee and Uncas Health District board and ran the volunteer docent program at City Hall before COVID-19 ended the program.

    Melucci said she has been a tenant and a landlord in the past, and now owns a mobile home and is a tenant leasing the land in the mobile home park. She said she would bring a unique perspective to the new commission.

    Resident Joanne Philbrick questioned how much the new commission would cost taxpayers, calling it another unfunded state mandate. She said some tenants would need a commission, but speculated the system could be abused. She asked how Norwich would administer the new commission.

    “We don’t have a fair tax commission,” Philbrick said. “We don’t have a fair utility commission.”

    The council adopted the fair rent ordinance unanimously Monday without comment or response to Philbrick’s questions.

    The commission will receive complaints and inquiries about alleged excessive rental charges or increases and allegations of retaliation for filing complaints. The commission’s jurisdiction will include mobile homes, but not seasonal rentals defined as rentals of less than 120 days per calendar year.

    The commission will have broad authority to investigate complaints, summon witnesses, hold public hearings and deliberate on complaints. The commission could refer any unsafe housing conditions to appropriate agencies.

    If the commission determines rent charges are excessive, the commission could suspend rent payments or reduce further payments.

    The commission also could establish an escrow account in a local bank to deposit rent payments during disputes.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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