KILLINGWORTH – Residents voted on Wednesday by a margin of 91-25 to approve the creation of a Fair Rent Commission in Killingworth after a 45-minute debate on the amount of power the commission would have to prescribe rental rates and the impact on the city’s legal fees.
The impetus to form a commission came largely from residents of the Beechwood Mobile Home Community in Killingworth. Last month, residents held a press conference with state and local officials in which they talked about recent rent increases and ongoing maintenance issues, including septic issues and the need for retaining walls on the property. Residents say rents – which have risen from $ 60 to $ 481 over the past 5 years – began to increase at a faster rate when Sun Corporation took over the park in 2019.
Killingworth first grader Nancy Gorski told Beechwood residents at the time that she was looking to form a Fair Rent Commission, a council of volunteers with the power to hear complaints about rental costs and deferred maintenance, of hold hearings and conduct studies and investigations.
But not everyone agreed with the idea.
While most in attendance at the town convention said they were in favor of helping Beechwood residents, some wondered if this commission would actually provide the rent hike relief residents were looking for.
“Beechwood lot rents … are not in line with similar developments in similar communities,” said Laura Lefko, a city resident and chair of the Killingworth Republican City Committee. “In my opinion … this won’t help you in the long run.”
Other city residents said they were concerned about an increase in legal fees in the city. And several smaller landowners also said they were concerned the commission would give other people the right to determine what they should or shouldn’t charge for rents.
“I have the communities of the sun. But there are also a lot of private rentals out there, ”said Walter Adametz, a Killingworth owner. “And now the city will tell me what I can and what I can’t charge the rent. I don’t think it’s right. “
Under Connecticut law, a Fair Rent Commission can limit rents if it feels the rent is “hard and unreasonable.” It can also suspend a tenant’s lease if a landlord fails to comply with health and safety regulations, and it can order a landlord not to retaliate against a tenant who went to the commission with a complaint.
By state law, in determining whether a rent is appropriate, a fee should consider factors such as rental costs in the area, the sanitary conditions of the rent, the “amount and frequency” of rent increases, the services provided, and any rent increase will be used to improve the properties.
Beechwood residents acknowledged that the Fair Rent Commission was “a first step” as they worked towards other methods of rent control, such as a state law that would limit annual rent increases to 3%.
“This is just the beginning,” said a Beechwood resident named Stephanie. “We are all older. We live on a fixed income. We are not rich. And if we get a fair rental fee here, that’s a start. ”
“[The Fair Rent Commission] it’s a ‘Hey, be careful. We have something behind us. We are not here alone ». And until recently it felt like you were there on your own, “said Kathleen Amoia, a Beechwood resident.” Everyone needs some power, and if you don’t have it, no one will listen to you. ”
Recruiter Jamie Mowat Young said she too had doubts about the commission’s effectiveness at first, but saw it as a fair way to tackle the problem.
“I agree that something needs to be done,” he said. “And this was handled by a legal advisor. It is used by other communities. It probably won’t make a big difference initially, but it will give you some support. “
He also noted that the commission would require both residents and owners, including Sun communities, to meet and talk “in a safe environment.”
“It requires them to come to the table and confront you, face to face, and say no to your face and then face the consequences if they broke the law,” Mowat Young said.
Recruiter Louis Annino said he sees the Fair Rent Commission as a proxy for the landlord-tenant relationship that existed before multi-state companies came in to manage developments like Beechwood.
“The customer[s] of the new landlord are investors rather than tenants. And I see it as a vehicle to move it back, “she said.
Gorski added that the commission would include representation for both renters and owners, so that there would be a “diversity of thinking”.
“As a host, don’t feel threatened by this. Think of this as a conversation, think of this as an understanding … that you have the opportunity to make your voices heard – both sides of the table – “he said.
Gorski told examiner CT before the meeting that he believes the Fair Rent Commission offers a new avenue for people to complain about rent increases, and especially those who have sought assistance elsewhere without success.
“What I hope for Killingworth is that we have a tool in the box for those people where, maybe they went to [the Department of] Consumer protection and their voices have not been heard, “he said.” This gives us another tool in the box for the time being until more formal legislation can be passed. ”
Gorski also told CT Examiner that he did not foresee a cost associated with the commission: if it were necessary for the city attorney to intervene to handle the litigation, he said, that would be out of normal operating costs. Or, he said, there may be an opportunity to get pro bono help from Connecticut Legal Services, Inc.
He said his goal is to have the commission set up and ready to go by November.