City Council signs off on ‘problem properties’ crackdown

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Jul. 14, 2011

The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal aimed at cracking down on absentee landlords whose properties have frequently drawn neighborhood complaints and a heavy police presence.

The proposal expands the definition of “public nuisance” to cover properties that police, code enforcement officials and health inspectors have to respond to multiple times.

A “problem property” is defined as a property that the police department has been called to more than four times within a 12-month period for criminal offenses ranging from disturbing the peace, trespassing, and underage drinking or assault. A property could also be designated as a “problem property” if City Hall officials have received four complaints about noise within a 12-month period or four complaints within a 12-month period for noxious or unsanitary conditions.

Under the Menino administration’s proposal, the landlord is subject to a $300 fine for every time that a property is designated a “public nuisance.”

The City Council also voted to codify an executive order setting up a task force that designates the “problem properties” through several factors, such as landlord indifference to the property, building conditions and inspectional services violations. The task force, which includes the police and fire commissioners, among other city officials, advises the mayor and the city council, and has the discretion to consider the number of units and other factors when deeming a site a “problem property.”

The proposal includes a way to get off the “problem properties list,” including a requirement for a management plan and an inspection and certification requirement.

If an owner doesn’t respond to the task force within 60 days, the city’s Inspectional Services Department is authorized to petition the Housing Court for the appointment of a receiver to rehab the property, under the ordinance.

The proposal was sparked by a May 7 fatal shooting at Savin Hill MBTA station. Police initially received reports that the alleged suspect, or several witnesses, had run from the scene to a three-decker down the street, at 47-49 Savin Hill Ave. The reports are now considered questionable, but neighborhood outcry over the shooting and 47-49 Savin Hill Ave., long considered as a “problem property” within the neighborhood, prompted the proposed regulations.