One agenda item on last week’s Town Council Agenda was a motion to adopt a new online registration process developed by Building Inspector Wayne Pimental. Key elements of this new process are as follows:

The Rental Registration  billing year has been moved up from December 21st to September 1st to align with the college rental year.

The Form requires the plat number and address of the rental unit, the number of dwelling units and bedrooms therein, the name and permanent address of the record owner, the maximum number of tenants at one time and the period of occupancy (Summer, September through June, less than thirty days or other).

All on-line applications shall be signed with an in-line affidavit.

Another important element of Mr. Pimental’s recommendation is the mandatory requirement that all rental leases, contracts or the names of the renters will be required to be uploaded in a PDF format to the electronic application. Finally, due to the change in the deadline to August 31, the application fee will be prorated to $80 as the current fee covered the registration until December 31st of this year. Registrations for 2023-24 are due August 31, 2023 will revert back to the full $120.00 per year.

Kudos to Mr. Pimental for spearheading this effort to improve and correct a long-broken process in Narragansett. Now that the “three-student” and “four-unrelated’s” ordinances are legal, the key to enforcement is an accurate database of rental properties along with proof of compliance.

Mr. Pimental stated at the meeting that many of the rental forms they receive have been incomplete, a testament to the fact that landlords believe turning family homes in residential neighborhoods into rooming houses or dormitories without adherence to rules and regulations is their innate right rather than the privilege that it truly is. This sense of entitlement was clearly evident in the tone and comments of landlords who spoke out that night in a continued effort to re-litigate an ordinance that is now the law.

Some went so far as to suggest many more rental houses will now be needed, since each one can now only include three students? Others complained that this new ordinance has raised the prices for students. Yes! In fact, smarter landlords have quickly realized that they can simply raise rents and generate the same income from three students with less wear and tear. Similarly, less students per house realizes less wear and tear on neighborhoods as well.

Of course, the worst offending out-of-town institutional landlords who have modified three-bedroom homes to stuff six and sometimes eight students into converted garages, porches, dining rooms and basements, irrespective of safety and building codes will come up short. Good! Getting rid of these abusers is one of the main benefits of the ordinance.

Again and again, the availability and cost of student housing is URI’s problem. It is NOT Narragansett’s responsibility. What is Narragansett’s responsibility is to protect the quality of life for its taxpaying residents and Mr. Pimental’s new process is a great step towards that goal.  

Nowhere in any of the landlord comments was any concern whatsoever for the residents who live next to these rental houses. Residents who have lost their neighbors to a revolving door of temporary tenants.  And one of the most valued attributes of residential neighborhoods is neighbors!

Surprisingly one town council member suggested that starting this on-line process on August 31 was too stressful and  burdensome to landlords, especially those that are not computer-savvy. Another threw out the red herring that many leases have social security numbers and landlords should not be required to divulge the SS numbers of their tenants, despite the fact that Mr. Pimental’s recommendations do not include SS numbers.

These council members are simply carrying the water for the landlords. They did not vote for the three-student ordinance and are happy to throw  a monkey wrench into its enforcement whenever they can.

During the meeting, I suggested that the two ordinances themselves be stated on the form, that the names and contact information of the tenants be added to the form as Mr. Pimental suggested, and that the online affidavit require landlords to swear under penalties of fines and perjury that the information they provide is truthful. Further, that the Town Solicitor insure that the completed registration form is legally bulletproof and enforceable. One resident suggested requiring  confirmation that these rental properties are actually insured as rentals.

Speaking on behalf of NPRA, we commend and thank Mr. Pimental for his efforts. These registration process changes will not only enable efficient enforcement, they will provide the Town a badly needed database of the nature of rentals, and in particular, the newly growing class of short-term rentals. If a few offenders are caught and properly penalized, the word will spread fast. Finally, the Town should add the ultimate penalty for repeat offenders that their rental privilege be revoked for a year. This will go a long way toward resetting landlord notions of rental entitlement.

Harold Schofield

Narragansett

The author is the Chair of the Narragansett Pier Residents Association

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