Monday, February 27, 2006

Number of People in Rental Unit

105 CMR 410.400 sets out the following minimum square footage requirements for rental property: "(A) Every dwelling unit shall contain at least 150 square feet of floor space for its first occupant, and at least 100 square feet of floor space for each additional occupant, the floor space to be calculated on the basis of total habitable room area.; (B) In a dwelling unit, every room occupied for sleeping purposes by one occupant shall contain at least 70 square feet of floor space; every room occupied for sleeping purposes by more than one occupant shall contain at least 50 square feet of floor space for each occupant.; (C) In a rooming unit, every room occupied for sleeping purposes by one occupant shall contain at least 80 square feet of floor space; every room occupied for sleeping purposes by more than one occupant shall contain at least 60 square feet for each occupant."

Apparently, that's not enough for the town of Milford. Friday's Boston Globe article, New Rules Raise Question of Family, reports that in response to concerns about overcrowding, "On Feb. 13, Town Meeting members voted 81 to 36 to change town zoning bylaws, limiting the definition of 'a family' to a group living together in a home with not more than 'three persons who are not within the second degree of kinship.' The new bylaw means that a single-family dwelling can house an unlimited number of first-degree and second-degree relatives -- including spouses, children, stepchildren, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren -- within occupancy regulations, said Gerald Moody, town counsel for Milford. But only as many as three more-distant relatives, like cousins or uncles, or unrelated individuals are allowed, Moody said."
Shanna Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, expressed concern that Milford's new bylaw, which still must be approved by the Attorney General, fails to take into account cultural traditions of extending family living in the same home.

More information on landlord-tenant issues is available at Mass. Law About Landlord-Tenant.

Friday, February 24, 2006

First Cousin Marriage

Yesterday, Ask Yahoo answered the question How Many States Allow A Resident to Marry a Cousin?. It turns out that you can marry your first cousin here in Massachusetts and in eighteen other states. The answer includes links to a number of helpful publications, including a summary of a study of the genetic consequences of allowing cousin marriage, and an article from Findlaw that explains that the prohibition is unusual worldwide. "Prohibitions on cousin marriage are unique to the United States. Most other countries permit first-cousin marriages without restriction, and the rate of cousin marriages in some countries is as high as 60 percent of all marriages. But that has always been the case, and being unique has rarely motivated Americans to change their ways. " More information on marriage laws is available at Mass. Law About Marriage.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What is a State of Emergency?

According to What is a Gubernatorial State of Emergency? from the Executive Office of Public Safety, “There is a misconception that various restrictions or bans automatically are triggered when there is a Gubernatorial State of Emergency in place. This is not so. The declaration of a State of Emergency does not in itself affect the operation of private enterprise. Travel is not automatically banned; businesses are not automatically closed. Many businesses do have contractual agreements with their employees regarding who does/does not have to report to work when a Gubernatorial State of Emergency is issued.” More details and a sample declaration are available in Massachusetts State of Emergency Procedures from MEMA. Information on other employment issues is available at Mass. Law About Hours and Conditions of Employment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Increased Taxes for Second Homes

The February 19 Hartford Courant reports that the Barnstable Town Council has taken advantage of a state law to charge out-of-town owners of second homes higher property taxes than are charged to year-round residents. "Barnstable is the 13th town in Massachusetts to take advantage of the state law that allows tax breaks of up to 20 percent of the town's average assessed property value. Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are two of the other communities," according to the Courant. The article explains, "The law [MGL chapter 59, section 5C], passed in 1979, was intended to ease the taxes of residents in big cities, such as Boston, by shifting the tax burden within residential-class buildings to investment properties such as apartment complexes, said Lydia Hill, a spokeswoman in the division of local services for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Services. Only recently has it been used by resort communities, she said."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Parental Access to School Records

The Senate last week approved S.2206, An Act Relative to Student Records, which will ease non-custodial parents' access to children's school records by amending c.71, s.34H. A report in Monday's Milford Daily News says, "Massachusetts is the only state in the country in violation of a federal law granting parents who do not have custody of their kids the right to "inspect and review their children’s education records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)," according to the U.S. Department of Education." "Under Massachusetts law, a parent without legal custody of their child must submit to the child’s school principal a court order which proves the parent has not been denied custody "based on a threat to the safety of the child or the custodial parent." Only then can the noncustodial parent be granted access by the principal, and must reapply for access each year. However, federal law dictates that both parents have equal access to their child’s records unless the school is shown a court order specifically revoking the noncustodial parent’s access for reasons such as abuse of the child or custodial parent. " The Department of Education adopted emergency regulations, Access by Non-Custodial Parents, 603 CMR 23.07(5), to bring the state into compliance with the federal law until the state law is amended. More information is available at Mass. Law About Student Records.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Libraries and Pornography

While the Children's Internet Protection Act requires libraries receiving certain federal benefits to provide filtering for computers to which children have access, the Montgomery County (Maryland) Homeland Security Department apparently decided that their duties include policing adults' computer use at the public library as well. According to the Washington Post today, "two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda one day last week and demanded the attention of all patrons using the computers. Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden." A librarian intervened, and eventually the officers were removed and reassigned, and "Montgomery County's chief administrative officer, Bruce Romer, issued a statement calling the incident "unfortunate" and "regrettable"." While the FBI has referred to our profession as "radical militant librarians," we take seriously our role in providing unfettered, unquestioned access by adults to the information of their choice.

Expanding Restraining Order Protection

The Domestic Restraining Order Statute, Chapter 209A, only offers protection to "persons who: (a) are or were married to one another; (b) are or were residing together in the same household; (c) are or were related by blood or marriage; (d) having a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; or (e) are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship."

Last week, public hearings were held on S1037, An Act Relative to Sexual Assualt and Stalking Protective Orders. The legislation is designed to "address the protection gap not addressed by chapter 209A of the General Laws. A victim of crimes such as stalking, indecent assault and battery and rape, cannot legally seek a restraining order, the violation of which carries criminal penalties, unless the victim can show a substantial relationship with the respondent. In the case of stranger rape, or even acquaintance rape, clergy or teacher sexual abuse, a victim cannot seek adequate protection. The General Court hereby addresses this shortcoming."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Child Support Guidelines Released

The new Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, effective February 15, 2006, are now available. According to Chief Justice Robert Mulligan, the guidelines are largely unchanged. "I have decided to make only one amendment to the Guidelines, that is, to delete the exception that the Child Support Guidelines do not apply to an agreement between the parties regarding child support. "

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ticket Scalping Law Loophole

In October 2005, we reported on a pending case against 16 ticket resellers for violation of the ticket scalping law. Now, an article in the Boston Globe on February 5, Anti-Scalping Law Invalid in Boston, Reseller Says, reports "One of the state's largest ticket resellers says it is free to charge whatever it wants for tickets to events in Boston because the Massachusetts antiscalping law doesn't cover the capital city." According to the article, the attorney for Ace Ticket, one of the defendants in the suit, "said the antiscalping statute [Mass. General Laws c.140, s.185A -185G] applies only to events licensed under a specific section of the law [Mass. General Laws c.140, s.181] . But he said all events held in Boston are licensed by the city under a separate statute, and are therefore exempt from the antiscalping law."

Suffolk County Law Library Access Questioned

An article in Sunday's Boston Herald, Exclusive bru$h with the law: New library closed to the public, questions the money spent on the Social Law Library, a private law library located within the new John Adams Courthouse. "The Social Law Library, which occupies 82,000 square feet, or roughly 40 percent, of the stately new John Adams Courthouse, is closed to the public. That makes Suffolk County the only county in the state without a free public law library for the citizens who foot the bills. This despite the fact that the Legislature regularly appropriates an average of $1.5 to $2 million annually for library operations, state budget records show. In contrast, the 17 other public law libraries across the state, also free to the public, get an average of $294,000 each year, records show. "

Friday, February 10, 2006

Patriot Act Compromise

A compromise regarding provisions of the Patriot Act was reportedly worked out between the White House and Congress yesterday. According to the North County Times, "The changes, worked out over several weeks of talks, specifically with the office of White House counsel Harriet Miers, covered three main areas:

Under the first, recipients of court-approved subpoenas for information in terrorist investigations would have the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.

The second removes a requirement that an individual provide the FBI with the name of an attorney consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by administrators.

The third clarifies that most libraries are not subject to National Security Letter demands for information about suspected terrorists."

The Washington Post provides more details on the library provision. "The proposal would restrict federal agents' access to library records, one of the Patriot Act's most contentious provisions. A form of secret subpoena known as a National Security Letter could no longer be used to obtain records from libraries that function "in their traditional capacity, including providing basic Internet access," [New Hampshire Senator] Sununu and others said in a statement. But libraries that are 'Internet service providers' would remain subject to the letters, [Illinois Senator] Durbin said."