July 12, 2000
FAIR RENT COMMISSIONS: DUTIES AND OBLIGATIONS
By: John Moran, Research Analyst
You asked for an explanation of the duties and obligations of municipal fair rent commissions authorized under CGS § 7-148b.
Fair rent commissions, which are created by act of a municipal legislative body, can receive and investigate rent complaints, issue subpoenas, hold hearings, and order landlords to reduce rents for specific reasons. When a commission finds the housing in question fails to comply with any local or state health or safety requirement, it may suspend rent payments until the housing is in compliance. A commission may also order a landlord to cease any retaliatory action against a tenant who complains to it. A commission must hold a hearing before taking any action.
A fair rent commission's purpose is to “control and eliminate excessive rental charges.” The law also states that anyone who violates a commission order or subpoena is subject to a fine of between $25 and $100.
COMMISSION POWERS (§ 7-148b)
In order to control excessive rental charges, state statute authorize municipal commissions to (1) to conduct studies and investigations, (2) hold hearings, (3) receive rent complaints (except on units rented on a seasonal basis), (4) require people to appear at hearings under oath, (5) issue subpoenas, and (6) issue orders regarding rent increases. A commission can alter or terminate any of its decisions. Under this statute “seasonal basis” means housing rented for not more than 120 days a calendar year.
Commissions are also authorized to carry out the provisions of a landlord tenant statute (§ 47a-20) regarding prohibited retaliatory actions by landlords. This section prohibits retaliation for a tenant making a good faith (1) effort to bring the dwelling in compliance with state and local laws and regulations, including filing a complaint; (2) request for reasonable repairs; and (3) effort to require the landlord to meet his legal responsibilities. Retaliation is also prohibited following the notice of a municipal health or safety violation or if the tenant organizes or joins a tenants union. Commissions can also carry out a subsection of the eviction statute (§ 47a-23c (b)).
CONSIDERATIONS IN DETERMINING EXCESSIVE RENT (§ 7-148c)
Commissions must consider a number of factors when determining whether a rental charge is excessive to the point of being “harsh and unconscionable.” The factors include: (1) rents for comparable units; (2) amount and frequency of rent increases; (3) sanitary conditions; (4) number of bathtubs or showers, toilets, and sinks; (5) services, furniture, and furnishings; (6) bedroom size and number; (7) repairs necessary to make the accommodations livable; (8) amount of taxes and overhead expenses, including debt service; (9) compliance with state and local health and safety laws and regulations; (10) renter's income and housing availability; (11) utility availability; (12) tenant damage to the premises, other than ordinary wear; and (13) the degree to which income from the rent increase will be reinvested in property improvements.
ORDERS BY COMMISSIONS (§ 7-148d)
After holding a hearing on a complaint, a commission can determine that a rent increase is excessive and order “rent be limited to such an amount as it determines to be fair and equitable.” This appears to mean the commission can set the rent at the rate it believes is fair.
If the housing in question fails to meet local or state health and safety requirements, then the commission can order the suspension of rent payments until the unit meets standards. During the time the rent is not paid to the landlord, it is paid to the commission to hold in escrow and is subject to any provisions adopted by the municipality.
If the commission determines, after holding a hearing, that a landlord has retaliated in any way against a tenant who has complained to it, the commission can order the landlord to cease the retaliation.
PENALTIES AND VIOLATIONS (§ 7-148f)
An order of rent reduction or suspension is violated when a landlord accepts, receives, or demands an amount in excess of the order while it is in effect and no appeal is pending. Refusing to obey a commission order, subpoena, or decision is also a violation.
Violators will be fined at least $25 but not more than $100. If the offense continues for more than five days, it constitutes a new offense for each additional day beyond five.
Any landlord under any order by a commission may appeal to the Superior Court for the judicial district where the rental property is located.