Important Information for Tenants, Landlords, and Residential Property Owners

Please review the new policies below to avoid violations and fines

As part of a broad and ongoing effort to address the regional housing crisis, Mayor Curtatone and the City Council, with input from many community members, have collaborated to implement several housing-related policy reforms in 2019. Each is designed to help protect our residents from displacement while balancing the needs of home- and property owners.

In the midst of the housing crisis facing Somerville and the Greater Boston region, these changes aim to help keep Somerville an affordable place to live, work, raise a family, and age in place. As we head into the new year, we encourage community members to learn about these new rules and strengthened tenant rights.

We especially urge landlords to review the new requirements and to note that violations of these policies may be subject to fines.

Housing Stability Notification Act

To ensure that all tenants facing displacement know their rights and what resources are available to them, landlords will now be required to provide a resource document (found here) to tenants when serving an eviction notice or notice of lease nonrenewal/notice to quit. The required resource document provides tenants with information about agencies that may be able to assist them during the eviction process. The document also provides information to assist tenants in accessing professional advice and/or legal representation, and/or aid in their search for new housing. To learn more about the act, visit the Office of Housing Stability webpage at www.somervillema.gov/ohs. This rule went into effect on December 26, 2019.

Short-Term Rental Ordinance (e.g. AirBnB)

New regulations for short-term rentals (for example, rooms or units rented on sites like AirBnB or HomeAway), were recently approved. To support overall efforts to increase housing affordability, the ordinance has two central impacts: 1) it preserves short-term rentals in owner-occupied primary residences as an option for Somerville residents to earn income to help cover their rent or mortgage, and 2) it seeks to maintain our housing stock by preventing whole units that are not a primary residence from being taken off the long-term housing market for short-term rental use. Additional measures also aim to ensure short-term rental safety and establish rules to address potential adverse impacts on neighbors/neighborhoods.

Residents and property owners who plan to offer short-term rental services should familiarize themselves with the new set of rules, which can be found at www.somervillema.gov/strs along with additional related documents and materials. Neighbors of short-term rentals with any concerns about activity near their homes should call 311 (617-666-3311 from a cell phone or outside city limits). The new rules went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Condo Conversion Ordinance

The Mayor and the Council recently passed significant updates to the Condo Conversion Ordinance that establish new protections for tenants who face displacement as a result of their units being converted to condominiums. Landlords who plan to convert to condominiums should be aware of the increased waiting period, relocation payment, and notification period for elderly, disabled, and low-income tenants. Tenants are encouraged to review the ordinance to learn about their rights.

The ordinance also provides the right of first refusal for tenants to purchase their condoized units at market rate, and a second right of refusal for the City or a nonprofit to purchase the unit at market rate and to establish the unit as permanently affordable. More information is available at www.somervillema.gov/condo-conversion. The new ordinance went into effect on August 23, 2019.

Zoning Overhaul

After more than seven years of research and analysis, hundreds of hours of community meetings, community-wide online editing of drafts, hundreds of adopted revisions based on public input, multiple public hearings, and extensive review by the City Council, Somerville has a new zoning ordinance. In every way it seeks to further the community’s shared SomerVision goals such as housing and job creation, generation of commercial tax revenue, expansion of open space, support for our makers and artists, and more, all while preserving our neighborhood feel.
Among the extensive array of improvements, there are several changes to housing policy that residents and business owners should be aware of. The new zoning code:

  • Provides clear guidelines and decreases obstacles for minor home renovations.
  • Requires new residential buildings to provide one outdoor space (such as a yard or deck) per unit and sets public open space requirements for new development.
  • Changes parking requirements to be based on the number of units rather than bedrooms; eliminates or reduces those requirements for homes within half a mile of a train station.
  • Requires the majority of development to designate 20% of units as affordable housing.
  • Sets enhanced sustainability goals for new construction.

Residents are encouraged to learn more about the zoning overhaul at www.somervillezoning.com. The new zoning rules went into effect immediately after the vote on December 12, 2019.

Tree Preservation Ordinance

After holding public hearings, the City Council also recently updated the City’s Tree Preservation Ordinance with the intent of preserving our tree canopy. All property owners are strongly encouraged to review the new tree preservation regulations. Violations of the ordinance will result in fines.

The recent tree preservation ordinance has new requirements for the removal of trees on private property. Homeowners should be aware that if they plan to remove a living tree that is at least 8 inches in diameter and that is not an invasive tree species, they will now need a permit from the City.

The ordinance also sets requirements for either tree replacement or payment to the City’s Tree Fund. Owner-occupants of one- to three-family homes do not need to meet the replanting or payment requirements, but they must still apply for a permit and provide plans regarding proposed tree removal. Exemptions apply to emergency removals such as dead or dying trees and trees that are deemed hazardous.

For more information, or to apply for a permit, please visit www.somervillema.gov/TreeOrdinance. The new rules went into effect on August 21, 2019.