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Boston Citywide Rental Registry Aims To Help Tenants

The new city ordinance requires owners to register all rentals of more than six units.

A new Boston rental inspection ordinance will require all owners and landlords with more than six units to register in a citywide registry.

Mayor Thomas Menino has pushed for the ordinance, which the city estimates will provide a proactive method for inspecting about 140,000 rental units, comprising more than 85 percent of Boston’s approximately 167,800 units.

During the next five years, every unit under the ordinance will receive an approved inspection or be entered into an Inspectional Services-approved alternative compliance plan. More than 10 inspectors are expected to be hired, as the city plans on tackling units owned by landlords with a history of noncompliance in the first year of the program. 

The ordinance first had to be approved by the Boston City Council, which it passed by a 9-4 margin on Dec. 20. 

District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said the city worked with tenants right organizations and Boston Realtors, to "put forth a compromise that will help create healthier, safer living conditions and housing conditions particularly for lower and middle income people."

"Landlords must be held responsible when it comes to providing safe and healthy housing for their tenants," Menino said via press release. “This ordinance creates a proactive rental inspection process that allows the city to work with property owners to improve quality of life for residents.”

City councilors Mike Ross and John Connolly said they felt the ordinance would create more bureaucracy.

"Rather than focusing on parts of the city that really need our focus, places in Mission Hill, places in Allston. Instead of focusing on those, this focuses on everything, with some exceptions if you live in a six-family dwelling," Ross said.

Another exception is that Section 8 housing will not be inspected under the ordinance because those units are already federally inspected.

Connolly estimated that for the rental registry program to be revenue neutral the city needs to inspect 70 percent of rental units.

"I see this is as a noble intent that will be a failure in practice," Connolly said.

But other city officials see the registry as a proactive approach to inspections.

“Tenants shouldn’t have to complain to the city in order to ensure that their units meet minimum health and safety standards. This revised ordinance allows us to proactively manage issues before they become hazardous to occupants,” Chief of Environment and Energy Brian Swett said via press release.

According to the city, the ordinance will:

  • Require annual registration of all rental units. 
  • Require owners in non-owner/occupied buildings to visibly post contact information.
  • Require an inspection once every five years by: an Inspectional Services Housing Inspector, a Section 8 Inspector or an Inspectional Services Department (ISD) trained and approved private inspector.
  • Establish a publicly available “Chronic Offender Registry” for landlords who regularly fail to correct problems. Those on the Chronic Offender Registry are subject to fines of $300 and other applicable enforcement measures.
  • Prioritize problem properties by placing them first on the list for inspection. “Problem properties” include those with poor inspection records, significant court records and complaints, or placement on the City of Boston’s “Problem Property Task Force” list. 

Owners of newly acquired housing units will be able to request a grace period provided they submit an acceptable compliance plan.

Previously, Boston's Rental Inspection Ordinance lacked a proactive component, and the city estimates that 98 percent of the more than 20,000 annual ISD housing inspections are currently in response to complaints.

For more information on registering, visit Boston's Inspectional Services Department's website. 

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