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Walsh makes changes to ensure landlords maintain building upkeep, respect tenants

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced a series of changes to address housing problems Saturday, which aim to reduce health and safety hazards in apartment buildings. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced a series of changes to address housing problems Saturday, which aim to reduce health and safety hazards in apartment buildings. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In an effort to prevent landlords from mistreating their tenants and holding their buildings to low standards, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is amending the Boston Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance.

The current housing ordinance requires private rental units to register annually for a fee, and inspections are conducted every five years. Walsh’s amendments to the ordinance, which include waiving this fee for certain units, are focused on encouraging landlords to keep up their properties and act as a protective measure for any mistreated tenants.

“Boston has some of the oldest housing stock in the country, and too often we only find out about serious health and safety issues through tenant complaints or after a tragedy has struck,” Walsh said in a Saturday release. “This is an important step in ensuring access to safe and healthy housing for all Bostonians.”

Walsh is proposing waiving the registration fee for rental units in 1-to-3 family owner-occupied buildings and providing a hardship waiver for 4-to-6 family owner-occupied buildings where the owner is more than 65 years old. The City of Boston will refund any registration fees that now fall under these categories as an attempt to encourage landlords to take care of their properties without being hindered by a registration fee.

According to the press release, 108,000 units are currently registered by more than 16,000 landlords. Under the amendments, approximately 10,000 units would be exempt from paying the registration fee.

Additionally, the changes include a directive for the Inspectional Services Department, which will begin in-depth inspections of the properties of landlords who have had code violations and compliance issues in the past.

“Proactive inspections that will begin this spring will allow the city to correct housing problems sooner and connect landlords with services and programs that will help them repair their units quickly and at lower cost,” Walsh said in the release. “We heard concern from our constituents that the registration fees may have been a barrier to some landlords, but this amendment strikes a balance with those concerns and addressing the real safety issues we see in neglected rental properties.”

City Councilor Timothy McCarthy, who owns and occupies a two-family rental unit, said he supports the efforts to protect tenants with neglectful landlords.

“As an owner and a landlord, I believe in fairness toward the tenants,” he said. “I really have no sympathy for the landlords who risk the tenants’ safety or exploit them financially … I congratulate the Walsh administration for being able to address it and feel comfortable talking with city councils and its residents to come up with a compromise.”

But despite backing the effort, McCarthy said the ordinance lacks balance. Landlords often cause tenants problems, but on the other hand, tenants can often cause landlords problems.

“Landlords, and especially the smaller landlords like myself who own and occupy their properties, we’re generally very responsive to our tenants needs and subjecting them to an annual fee is really not [necessary],” he said. “But [the ordinance is] too broad and I think it’s unfair. If you’re going to have an ordinance such as this, which I think is important, we also need one that talks about landlord rights as well.”

McCarthy said Boston should be supporting landlords as well as tenants by also weighing landlords’ interests in these decisions, especially since these issues sometimes end up in court.

Many residents of Boston said they are pleased that helping tenants with problematic landlords is becoming a focus for officials.

“In a city like Boston, the majority of people are probably renting,” said Matt Jamison, 39, of the South End. “That leads to people getting lost in the crowd … so when they’re trying to get help with a landlord problem, they can’t get it. These changes will hopefully really help that and prevent the problems from even happening in the first place.”

Joyce Laslo, 65, of Dorchester, said there should be a similar ordinance protecting landlords.

“I have family members who are owners of rental properties, and I can’t tell you the number of problems they’ve had with their renters,” she said. “At one point, the renters weren’t paying but they couldn’t kick them out … it was really strange, and there needs to be something to help them with horrible tenants.”

Yao Shu, 33, of Kenmore, said he is hopeful this will make it less stressful when looking for places to live.

“You really have to watch out for run-down apartments and the little details that landlords are supposed to take care of but sometimes don’t,” he said. “If there’s something protecting renters, then it takes some of the anxiety out of it.”

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