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Landlords Resist Apartment Registration/Inspection Law

Rooftop view of apartments in Allston, Mass. (Wikimedia Commons/Joel McCoy)

Rooftop view of apartments in Allston, Mass. (Wikimedia Commons/Joel McCoy)

Thousands of Boston landlords have until the end of this week — August 31 — to register their rental units in a new inspection program.

Under a recently approved ordinance meant to make Boston’s estimated 140,000 apartments safer, any housing unit not occupied by the owner has to be registered with the city. Owners must pay a $25 registration fee for each apartment in the first year and $15 per unit every following year.

Beginning in January 2014, inspectors will then check out most units once every five years to make sure they’re up to code. Inspections come with additional fees. The exceptions to inspections: owner-occupied buildings with fewer than 7 units and apartments that are owned or managed by the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts or the federal government.

The registration requirement applies even to rental units that are vacant or not collecting any rent.

Some landlords say Boston should be targeting known violators rather than casting such a wide net, and they’re skeptical the city can accomplish such an ambitious task. And although rental property owners who don’t register their units could be fined $300 per month, so far most landlords have not yet signed up; just days before the deadline, fewer than 35 percent of the city’s rental units had been registered.

Meanwhile, many tenants fear that — in an already expensive rental market — registration and inspection fees will be passed along to them in the form of higher rents.

WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with the city’s inspection chief, a tenant advocate and a large-scale landlord about the new program.


Bryan Glascock, Commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department

Kathy Brown, coordinator of the Boston Tenants Coalition

Harold Brown, chair and CEO of the Hamilton Company


City of Boston The purpose of this Ordinance is to implement a proactive rental inspection program that maximizes the effectiveness of City resources in rental property code enforcement.

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  • J__o__h__n

    Rents are obscenely high in Boston. The landlords can easily afford $25 to register without using it as an excuse to raise rents.

    • jspriggs

      Be fair — housing prices (and therefore mortgages and property taxes) are also insanely high in Boston. I’m not saying there aren’t rich folks who took advantage of the crash to buy up properties for renting — there are. But many landlords are just barely keeping up with mortgage payments.

      • pyewacket

        But rental prices have soared in the past few years, while house prices have not. And there is a huge inventory of poorly maintained rentals that were purchased decades ago – long before houses were expensive. If you rent on the “low-end” of the market (meaning you make what would be a solid middle-class income anywhere else in the country and spend 1/3 of your income on rent), your options for housing are shocking. The code violations in even the best apartments I’ve lived in have been manifold. I don’t even want to talk about the places I looked at and chose not to rent. Anyway, $25 isn’t going to be the make-it-or-break-it item for most landlords. The cost of actually bringing these places up to code is what they fear.

        • Scott

          What does rising rent prices have to do with registration? Rents are still gonna go up.

          • pyewacket

            Follow the thread of the conversation.

          • Scott

            Explain to me how registration will lower rents.

          • pyewacket

            I wasn’t saying that. I was replying specifically to jspriggs, who seemed to be 1) disagreeing with j_o_h_n’s claim that the $25 fee wasn’t problematic for landlords (I agree with j_o_h_n that it is not), and 2) arguing that rental prices were high because housing prices are high, which I am arguing is only partly true. I don’t think registration will bring down rents at all. In fact, I fear that requiring apartments to be brought up to code will results in many landlords pushing those costs onto their tenants without touching their own profits, thereby making the rental market situation even worse. However, I’m not against the registration because the number of units I’ve seen that don’t come close to compliance is unacceptable. The problem with rental prices has its origins in many issues and will need to be dealt with in other ways.

          • Scott

            The problem is non-landlords are being swept up in this. If you own a
            two family house, live on one floor and use the other floor for storage,
            work space, studio or office, you have to register. Same thing if you
            have one large family that uses both units. You’re not renting anything
            out but ISD lumps you in with the people they are really targeting. So
            they want us to pay up or face fines and points in the ‘Chronic
            Offender’ point system for non-compliance. My neighbor owns a completely renovated two-family, he and his wife are on the second floor and his mother-in-law is on the first floor, she’s not on the deed. Under ISD’s guidance he is a landlord required to register and pay annually. That is ridiculous.

          • rogger2

            I agree with you that this whole process is ridiculous but I was under the impression that if the building is owner-occupied then you don’t have to register.

          • DWilliams

            From the City of Boston website-

            Example: Three family house – the property owner does not register the unit they live in but she/he does have to register the other two units. Because the building is owner-occupied and has six or fewer units, all three units are exempt from the inspection section.

          • Mark C Smith

            sure , I agree sound in theory, but would someone move into say S
            outhie and pay 2-3,000 if there were problems with the unit. The real problems lie elsewhere with absent landlords.

        • Scott

          House prices have soared. In JP, the record was just set for highest price paid for a 2 BR condo without parking.

    • kenjim01

      Sure, landlords can afford this??? Are you in any sort of reality??? This is just a veiled attempt to raise our taxes and enforce rules that are outdated. The city wants to enforce more Section 8 rules as well. If you think rents are too high, leave

  • distractedriver

    Harold, your past determines your future actions. Let the host finish the question. If you don’t want to answer, don’t answer. In either case, your blatant stone walling and flippant answers to unfinished questions makes you look like a horses ass.

    • mumtothree

      Actually, I thought it was Bryan Glascock who persistently interrupted the host/interviewer and refused to listen to her questions concerning Boston inspectional services and its history, which is relevant to the discussion. So many issues were not addressed in this show. E.g., is it fair to apply 2013 building codes to much older housing stock? Does BISD know how easy it is for a tenant to disable a smoke/CO detector which results in a code violation? If you look at the application, it’s not just registration, it’s a statement that the LL intends to comply with ALL codes and standards. That’s fine for new housing stock, but a nightmare for a small landlord with an old building. So now instead of proudly providing tenants with affordable, spacious rental housing, I will have to (a) sink more money than I have into “compliance” and (b) hope I can eventually recoup my losses by raising rents. There are more of us out here than you realize – anyone who thinks that the objection is to the cost of the registration is naive.

  • mumtothree

    Please address the civil liberties issues. My tenants do not wish to have their homes invaded.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=745185020 Cory Heaton

    So is there a place where a Boston resident can go check if there landlord is registered?

    • DWilliams

      First let me say that landlord/ladies don’t register themselves, they register their apartments.

      You can look here to find a list of registered apartments http://www.cityofboston.gov/isd/housing/certunits.asp

      Registering the apartment is only registering. Having the apartment inspected is the next step that the city proposes. Inspection offers some assurance that the apartment is likely to be trouble free. The purpose of the Inspection is to make the apartment comply with something called “the sanitary code”. The sanitary code is a 35 page document that requires certain things- hot wather to be a certain temperature, requires windows to have screens, limits the number of people who can sleep in a certain size room, etc, etc, etc. Complying with the sanitary code can limit your choices. For instance there was an apartment with ceramic tile countertops in the kitchen- they had to be taken out and replaced with “smooth surface” because that is what the code requires. Big brother is going to tell you what you can and cannot have.
      The sanitary code can be found here-

  • mso9999

    Thanks for putting this segment together and letting the sparks fly. Great radio.

  • kenjim01

    This is nothing
    more than a veiled attempt to raise taxes in an already atx laden city. The
    inspectional services department is a bunch of uneducated, arrogant and
    vindictive group of lazy employees. As a small property owner, this is an
    insult to all of who take care of our tenants and apartments. I am disgusted by
    the Mayor’s office and the city councilor’s who approved this measure. I will
    be enlisting every resource I can to vote those who approved this ordinance out
    of office. And, these costs WILL be passed onto tenants. I intend to send
    notices to all of my tenants and tell them to bombard City Hall with anger and
    disgust. IN additional, the city wants to try and force more landlords to rent
    to Section 8, who trash apartments with no repercussions.

    • jcm52

      I’d be curious to see how many tenants bombard City Hall with a complaint about you passing on less than $2 a month in fees when it means that it’s easier for them to make sure their apartment is up to code.

      Or wait – you’re going to raise it by more than $2/month? You’re just using this as an excuse to increase your profits?

  • DWilliams

    Under the old system of apartment inspections there was a charge to have an apartment inspected. I don’t remember the exact price but it was around $150. So I think the total cost will be well over the $25. or $15. registration charge that is being debated.

  • Thinkfreeer

    More taxes. We pay taxes so that we can have a government which will, among other things, ensure some amount of safety and fairness. How then can additional “fees” be justified? The government needs to do its job within a budget that accounts for normal tax revenue and not impose additional taxes in the form of fees, which only some have to pay. In this case, it is even more unfair. The only beneficiaries of this practice are the tenants. Yet it is the landlords who have to fund the cost? If unfair practice is allowed to continue, I think all the landlords should, as a group, announce a one-time increase in rents to cover the cost of more government interference.

    • J__o__h__n

      I think the current obscenely high rents are more than enough to cover it.

    • jcm52

      Sure. Let them. That would be… a $15 per year expense (with a $10 extra the first year).

      I don’t think any tenant is going to get upset at a $15 increase in annual rent if it means the landlord is going to have to do a better job of keeping the place up to code. My rent just went up $130/month.

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