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Landlords In Mass. Fight Rent Control

MASSACHUSETTS landlords are gathering support for an anti-rent-control referendum question that they hope to put on this state's 1994 November ballot.

The proposed initiative - launched by the Massachusetts Homeowners Coalition of Cambridge, Mass. - would ban communities from enacting rent control except for a six-month period. The secretary of state's office will determine Wednesday if supporters have gathered enough signatures for it to be considered a ballot question.

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If it passes, Massachusetts would be the 27th state to pass an anti-rent-control initiative. This year, rent-control bans were passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, and North Dakota.

Currently, only three Bay State communities - Brookline, Cambridge, and Boston - have rent control. And the city of Cambridge, which enacted rent control in the early 1970s, has one of the strictest laws of any city in the country. Besides Massachusetts, rent-controlled communities are located mainly in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and California.

Rent control is meant to protect low-income tenants from escalating city rents, but property owners say wealthy tenants abuse the system. According to the Mass. Homeowners Coalition, rent control tenants include Cambridge Mayor Kenneth Reeves, a State Supreme Court justice, lawyers, doctors, and teachers.

``The ability to have people charge fair market rent for their property without having to go through a government agency to do that is just a fundamental private property rights issue,'' says John Melley, of the Massachusetts Association for Realtors.

But Bay State tenants call the anti-rent-control initiative undemocratic. They argue that it is unfair to put the rent-control question to a statewide vote when only a few cities have such rent-control regulations.

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