Mayor Walsh Proposes Amendment to Housing Inspection Ordinance

BOSTON, Mass.—On Saturday, March 22, Mayor Martin Walsh announced a proposed amendment to the City of Boston’s Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance in an attempt to help renters live in safe and up-to-code homes.

One of the main obstacles standing in the way of healthy housing in Boston is the cost landlords have to put toward rental registration fees, which many have not done. These fees have been too costly for certain landlords—especially those residing in their own buildings with few occupants—and have led to an increase in neglected properties. That, in turn, leads to unfairly displaced families and individuals.

“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,” Mayor Walsh said, according to the city’s press release.

Currently, the ordinance obliges rental unit owners to pay an annual fee to the Inspectional Services Department as part of its registration program. The amendment proposes to modify this fee structure.

According to the press release, the amendment intends to waive the registration fees for certain rental units in 1- to 3-family, owner-occupied buildings, and provide what is called a “hardship waiver” for 4- to 6-family, owner-occupied buildings whose owner is either a senior, physically or mentally incapacitated or exhibits another condition that would be considered a hardship.

Mayor Walsh held the amendment announcement at 50 Evelyn Street in Mattapan—where safety violations forced tenants to move out—in order to fully illustrate the cruel domino effect created by the prohibitively high cost of rental registration fees. The residents of 50 Evelyn Street were forced to vacate after a complaint about absent utilities and frozen and leaking pipes; the Boston Fire Department also noted a building flood. According to the city’s press release, all of these violations remain outstanding, and the people formerly residing in the home still do not have permanent housing.

Brian Swett, chief of environment and energy for the City of Boston, and Dr. Megan Sandel of the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, joined Mayor Walsh on Saturday to signal the serious environmental and public health consequences when inspection compliances are not met. When they are not addressed because of high inspection costs, micro hazards that on the surface may not initially seem grave, like pest infestations and mold problems have the ability to snowball into macro housing, public health and environmental problems for the city, its residents and its properties.

According to the press release, Mayor Walsh has directed the Inspectional Services Department to start inspecting the city’s rental units. The department has been instructed to start this year’s inspections on landlords with a history of code violations and compliance issues.

“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. This is an important step in ensuring access to safe and healthy housing for all Bostonians,” said Mayor Walsh in the press release.

“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,” he continued.

The proposed amendment will also include refunds for property owners who have paid their registration fees but happen to qualify for exemptions. Around 10,000 of the over 108,000 currently registered units will be eligible for refunds, according to the press release.

City Councilor Timothy McCarthy, who is an owner-occupier himself, agrees with Mayor Walsh’s amendment.

“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 the city’s council and its residents to come up with a compromise,” McCarthy told the Daily Free Press.

However, McCarthy believes the ordinance is not properly balanced. “[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,” said McCarthy, according to the Daily Free Press.

While it takes two to rent a home, tenants are invariably holding the shorter end of the stick, and Mayor Walsh’s proposed amendment could have large and positive outcomes for all parties involved – landlords, tenants, the city and the environment.












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