Commentary: What homeowners need to know about new city ordinance

Bryan Glascock
Aug. 22, 2013

Boston is moving forward with the newly amended Rental Housing Registration and Inspection program, which requires all private rental units to be registered with the City and inspection of all non-exempt rental units to be conducted at least once every five years.

Last fall, Mayor Menino signed an amendment to the City’s long-standing rental housing ordinance, which required landlords to notify the City when a new tenant moved into the property, or “turned over.” Compliance with that ordinance was very low and there was no incentive for landlords to comply, as a result, each year the City’s Inspectional Services Department faced over 22,000 inspections due to complaints.

Too often, after an apartment fire or other building issues, a review of the records showed no recent complaints or inspections which would have uncovered problems. This new, pro-active approach is critical to ensuring safe, healthy apartments in Boston.

The program, run by the City’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Housing Division, requires all owners of private rental housing in Boston to register their units by August 31, 2013 and that non-owner occupied buildings and those over 6 units are inspected at least once every 5 years (beginning in 2014). The scheduled inspections will be done by ISD personnel or, at the owner’s option, by a qualified private inspector who has gone through an ISD training and been certified. The purpose of the inspection is to ensure compliance with the State Sanitary Code, something that has always been required. Property owners who can provide documentation of property management plans which ensures code compliant units can apply for an alternative to an Inspection, therefore, exempting them of the full requirements of inspections for 5 years.

The first year of inspections (2014) will focus on properties and landlords with a history of non-compliance but will also include units chosen at random from every neighborhood in order to get a better idea of the condition of Boston’s rental housing stock. As a resident, everyone has the right to safe, healthy housing, regardless of how much you pay in rent. Boston’s residents cannot be forced to bargain away their health and safety for lower rent. This program will also protect the good landlords by ensuring a level playing field.

Registration can be done through the City’s website, Payments of the registration fee ($25/unit, $2500 max. per building/$5000 max. per complex) can be done on-line, by check or in person at ISD, 1010 Massachusetts Ave. Boston, MA 5th floor. The fees help support the program and maintain the critical database of rental units in Boston. We strongly encourage landlords to use the on-line registration system as it reduces paperwork and processing time, but ISD has staff available to assist. For assistance call 617-635-1010.

On behalf of the City of Boston Inspectional Services Department, I thank you for your cooperation and look forward to moving ahead with this ambitious program and making Boston’s rental housing some of the safest and healthiest in the nation.

Bryan Glascock is Commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department.