City of Somerville

Agenda Item
Placed on File
Dec 12, 2019 7:00 PM

Requesting approval of a Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City to provide tenants the right to purchase the residential property in which they reside when that property is being offered for sale.


Department:Housing StabilitySponsors:
Category:Mayor's RequestPurposes:Ordinance


  1. Right to Purchase Short 10 10 19

Official Text

To the Honorable City Council:


I hereby request your consideration and approval of an updated Home Rule Petition to preserve affordable housing in Somerville by authorizing the City to enact legislation to establish a tenant's right to purchase the residential property in which they reside when that property is being offered for sale.


My staff will be available to answer any questions you may have. Thank you for your consideration.


Respectfully Submitted,

Joseph A. Curtatone, Mayor

Meeting History

Oct 10, 2019 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting

Councilor Niedergang commented that this was for a tenant’s right of first refusal when their home is being sold.

Oct 17, 2019 6:00 PM Video Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting

Councilors Davis and McLaughlin indicated that they are prepared to approve this item this evening; however, Chairman Niedergang said he is not comfortable voting for this tonight as he has a number of questions and wants to give all Councilors notice before holding a vote. He also feels that the public should be able to provide input on the matter. Councilor McLaughlin pointed out that this subject has been discussed for the last 2 years and that the public has been aware of it. Councilor Davis suggested reviewing the changes that have been made to the draft and holding a public hearing later, if and when the Home Rule Petition gets approved and the Council has the opportunity to implement it with an ordinance. Ms. Shachter said that provisions could be added at a later date provided they are not inconsistent with the scope of the legislation. She then reviewed the history of the proposal and various drafts and highlighted the changes made. Ms. Carrillo told the committee that she contacted 2 title companies and one said that the proposed legislation would not affect their providing title insurance, while the second company said it would. She will revisit this question in light of the shortened version of the proposal,

Chairman Niedergang said that he wants to be sure that things that have been cut from the previous draft, e.g., the exemption for grandchildren, could be added back at a later date, and wants to know why it was taken out in the first place. Ms. Shachter noted that the condo conversion ordinance should be considered and reviewed in the context of the right to purchase so as to avoid any conflicts with this Home Rule Petition.

When asked about the receipt and acceptance of a bonafide offer being the event trigger, Ms. Shachter explained that the thinking is that it would be a conditional acceptance. Members discussed whether a bonafide offer that is received after a reduction in price should be considered as a new bonafide offer. The Committee asked that definitions of “bonafide offer” and “purchase contract” be added. Councilor Ballantyne would like to know what was removed from the previous version of the proposal. She also asked how information about this issue will be shared with the public.

Dec 5, 2019 6:00 PM  Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting

Ms. Shachter and Mr. Shapiro shared that each provision in the original, much longer Home Rule Petition (HRP) proposed by the Administration was reviewed to ensure that it could be added back in if the Home Rule Petition is approved. In the 2018 HRP, there was a look-back provision that allowed tenants who had resided in that unit within the past six months to be covered, but this is not included in the 2019proposed HRP, which parallels the enabling act that St ate Rep Denise Provost has introduced in the State Legislature. The definition of tenant or the preamble would need to be changed if this look-back period is to be included. Councilor McLaughlin noted that this is an anti-displacement measure, and if the tenant is already displaced, including them would gain little and add a complicated burden. Councilor Ballantyne agreed that for this reason the change seems acceptable. Councilor Davis did note that this creates a loophole, but adding a look-back makes approval from the state much more difficult so he is inclined to accept the draft as presented. The provision for six month duration for tenancy has been removed; rather there must be any lease or other agreement in place, which could be proved through a record of payment and acceptance of rent by the landlord.

The preamble has been expanded and clarified to note that the City may add additional language, terms and provisions consistent with effectuating the purposes of the Act. Councilor Davis expressed worry that this language could put this at risk at the state level. Ms. Shachter clarified that it is stated that the ordinance shall contain substantially the same language set forth in the Act, which is consistent with other Home Rule Petitions that have been approved. Thus, several provisions have been stricken at this time, including relative to how fair market price is set and specifics about what constitutes a bona fide offer. The provision for hiring a third party appraiser to determine value has been removed. The right should be to match, not control what the prices are. Changing this would be inconsistent with the Act, and thus would not be able to be added at a later date. Councilor Davis clarified that this is covered by the revised definition of a bona fide offer.

Councilor Niedergang noted that the residential exemption has been removed from the HRP language around exempt properties. Ms. Shachter shared that the exemption can be used in an ordinance based on the HRP if it is approved to determine residency at the local level. Councilor Ballantyne also noted that the term “natural or adoptive child” seems offensive, and wondered if there was a legal reason for including that specific language. Ms. Shachter said that it was taken from the enabling legislation, but the reasoning is not clear to her. The provisions regarding various administrative processes have been removed from the HRP. These can be addressed locally and added back in to create procedural guidelines at a later date. The time frames for the right to purchase have been decreased slightly. These will not be able to be changed later.

The duty for both parties to negotiate in good faith has been clarified, in place of several specific administrative actions. Councilor Davis pointed out that the definition of Purchaser should be adjusted or removed, as if they have already entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement, the obligation to negotiate in good faith is moot. It was also clarified that where the condo conversion law applies, that takes precedent over the right to purchase. A further provision was added to clarify that it is unlawful to evict without just cause and a tenant’s rights under the right to purchase legislation are not waivable.

Councilor Davis moved to adopt the most recent revision of December 3, 2019 as the working document. The motion was approved.

Councilor Davis moved to amend the last line of Section 3(a) to read "Both the Owner and such Tenant, Tenant Association or Tenant Association Designee shall be obligated to negotiate in good faith." The motion was approved.

Councilor Davis moved to amend Section 3(b) to remove "in good faith" after "Statement of Interest to negotiate" and add as a last line: "Both the Owner and the City or City Designee shall be obligated to negotiate in good faith." The motion was approved.

Councilor Davis moved to delete the definition of "Purchaser". The motion was approved.

Councilor Davis moved to amend Section 2(a) to delete "conditioned upon the waiver of rights under" and replace with "subject to the provision of, and delete "by all relevant parties" and "from a party". The motion was approved.

Chair Niedergang noted that the name of Ordinance 2019-06, “Condominium Conversion Ordinance,” should be included in Section 2(a) so that people know what this refers to.

Chair Niedergang moved for adoption of the amended Home Rule Petition. The motion was approved unanimously.

Dec 12, 2019 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting

Replaced by #209409, which was Approved, for the adopted text.