Council Passes Ordinance Aimed at Improving Rental Apartments

December 27, 2012
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City Councilor Sal LaMattina was one of nine councilors voting in favor of a new ordinance that aims to make the rental housing market in Charlestown safer, cleaner and healthier by conducting regular inspections of rental apartments every five years.

The City Council approved the City of Boston’s Rental Inspection Ordinance 9-4 this week and LaMattina said the ordinance would ensure that landlords in Charlestown would be held accountable for the apartments they rent to tenants.

“In Charlestown, we’ve had some problems with landlords renting substandard apartments to tenants,” said LaMattina. “The new ordinance will cover a majority of the apartments being rented in the neighborhood and make it easier for the city to easily identify landlords of buildings and hold them accountable when they fail to provide safe and decent housing for tenants.”

The Ordinance will cover about 140,000, or more than 85 percent of the city’s approximately 167,800 rental units. Over the next five years, every unit covered under the ordinance will receive an approved inspection or be covered by an Inspectional Services (ISD)-approved alternative compliance plan. The city will tackle inspections of units owned by landlords with a history of non-compliance in the first year.

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

Menino added that the measure does not seek to punish responsible landlords and alternative compliance methods for owners with a good history of rental housing ownership will be available.

Echoing Menino, LaMattina said the ordinance would create a fair and predictable five-year inspection cycle that prioritizes “problem properties”.

“This isn’t about hassling good landlords that do the right thing,” said LaMattina. “What the ordinance is about is making sure landlords in Charlestown and elsewhere in the city that have been on ISD’s radar screen for some time are held responsible for their properties.”

Educational and self-help tools to ensure code compliance will be made available by ISD.

“Boston can now be held up as a national leader in rental inspection requirements,” Chief of Environment and Energy Brian Swett said. “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.”

The ordinance also establishes 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 enforcement measures.

On the other hand, Charlestown property owners who demonstrate that their units exceed standards, provide an acceptable management plan and have a good history of compliance will be granted the ability to request an alternative compliance plan.

Also, owners of newly-acquired housing units will be able to request a grace period for compliance, provided they submit an acceptable compliance plan.