SOUTHINGTON — Town leaders started debating the formation of a fair rent commission Tuesday after an attorney’s opinion that landlords and others on the Town Council can take up the issue without a conflict of interest.
The General Assembly required towns and cities to form fair rent commissions by July 2023.
With some Town Council members owning investment real estate in town, council leaders wanted a legal opinion on potential conflicts of interest. Town Attorney Alex Ricciardone had the issue reviewed by an independent attorney, Jeffrey Donofrio, who has experience with municipal legal work.
“There was no actual conflict of interest found by this attorney,” Ricciardone said.
For the sake of transparency, Donofrio recommended that any draft fair rent ordinance be reviewed by an independent attorney to ensure “it’s not one sided, pro-landlord, pro-tenant — that it treats everyone fairly and that it’s balanced,” Ricciardone said.
The council began discussion on how the commission might determine fair rent and how the commission will be formed. Both a Democrat and a Republican presented a summary of proposals for the commission’s creation.
Questions about potential conflicts
Bill Dziedzic, a Republican councilor, attorney and an owner of Precision Property Management, asked Ricciardone clarifying questions about the independent attorney’s opinion.
Ricciardone reiterated that those owning property don’t have a conflict and that the Town Council must ultimately vote on the commission’s formation.
Paul Chaplinsky, a Republican councilor and council vice chairman, said his mother lives in a mobile home that’s prompted fair rent commission discussion. He said he was glad to hear that he and other councilors were clear to have a debate on the commission.
Val DePaolo, a Democratic councilor and an attorney, asked if the matter would go to the ordinance committee. Dziedzic is chairman of the ordinance review committee.
Ricciardone said there’s no need to send the issue to the ordinance committee since the council has final say over it anyway.
Mobile home residents
Residents of a local mobile home park concerned about upcoming rent increases have requested the fair rent commission over the past several meetings. David Delohery, a Riverside Drive resident, said real estate investors debating the creation of the commission didn’t bother him.
“As a member of the mobile home parks that are driving this and a former real estate investor myself, I don’t have any problem with any of you debating fair rent commission,” he said.
The company that owns the mobile home park is a stock corporation, Delohery said, and he believed a shareholder of that company shouldn’t have a hand in the commission’s creation.
“I think people in our community would really have a problem with that,” he said.
He hoped everyone would have a say on the commission.
“We don’t expect a fair rent commission to roll back rents to 1970 or something. We’re just looking to the future,” Delohery said.
The council had not taken action on the commission’s creation as of press time Tuesday night.
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