Mayor proposes ending controversial apartment registration fee for small owner-occupied buildings

Mayor Walsh said today he wants to waive a city registration fee for apartments in small owner-occupied buildings - and to refund the fees paid by their landlords last year.

On Monday, Walsh will file a request with the City Council to amend a law that now requires all owners of rental units to pay a fee to the city - which pays for inspections of those units.

Under Walsh's proposal, landlords who live in buildings with up to three units would be exempt from the fee. Landlords who live in buildings with up to six units could apply for a waiver if they're over 65 or can prove a hardship that would make paying the fee a problem.

The city estimates the proposal would affect owners of roughly 10,000 of the city's 108,000 legal apartment units.

Standing in front of a condemned building at 50 Evelyn St. in Mattapan, owned by an out-of-state loan company, Walsh vowed the changes would not affect city efforts to ensure tenants have safe apartments to live in.

Boston’s proactive rental registration and inspection program will help the City correct dangerous housing conditions before tragedies strike and address longstanding health problems associated with non-code compliant housing conditions such as mold and pest infestations.

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Comments

Sounds a bit unfair

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If I'm reading this correctly, sounds like if you own a small condo for rent in a building with 134 units, then you are subject to the fee. Guessing this only applies to triple deckers and the like - but what if you own 6 triple deckers?

I'm not a landlord - so don't really care - just seems like you are not applying the law fairly (and this whole thing sounds like a nightmare to administer anyway).

Just scrap the whole thing - landlords pay a lot in taxes because they absorb a huge chunk of the residential exemption anyway.

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Under Walsh's proposal,

Under Walsh's proposal, landlords who *LIVE IN* buildings with up to three units would be exempt from the fee.

Emphasis mine.

And if you are over 65, and live in a 6 apartment duplex that you own, you can apply for an exemption. Its for single building landlords who live in an apartment in their building and rent out the rest, which seems pretty fair, especially considering the small time owner who lives in his own building probably isn't going to have slumlord apartments in that building.

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What is the fee for?

If it is supposed to cover regular inspections, then it should be an inspection fee. Otherwise, require registration of units (so you know what needs inspections or tracking) and just charge for services as they are performed.

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Fee = Perverse incentive

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they need to charge those they are inspecting more money… simple.

Then the city will have even more incentive to do lots of often useless inspections on small and mid-size property owners. And a negative incentive to visit the larger corporate ones that will take lots of time and effort for similar payout.

I say "even more " because as others have pointed out, they already do this to some extent - a Back Bay residential building owned by an organization to which I belong, is regularly visited by inspectors who give contradictory reports, do not actually know the current building/fire codes, visit several times in a single week to do the same inspection, or show up with multiple inspectors who either follow the first around or just hang out on the ground floor.

And then more often than not, we get an independent state-licensed inspector to come in and he rolls his eyes and points out that we are in better-than-compliance already, or (and this has happened a *lot*) that the changes the city inspectors are proposing would actually put us in violation of code.

Now, I suspect much of this is motivated by the animus of a particular neighbor, who is a mover and shaker in Boston's political class. But I've heard enough similar horror stories from other small property owners to believe that this scenario plays out all over the city. If you make inspections a significant revenue generating activity, I have no doubt we'll all be up to our armpits in 'ineptors'.

(btw, I don't if the Walsh administration is going to be as vindictive as Menino's, but I submitted this while logged out because I didn't want to take the chance that some wonk at city hall would use it as an excuse to put us on the "even more shit" list. Yeah, I love this city but I'm still that paranoid about the people 'running' it. Sigh.)

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Actually renters pay the

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Actually renters pay the taxes for them. Unless my landlord is actually losing money and renting me my apartment out of the goodness of her heart. These fees might be dumb but Boston area rental properties definitely need wayyyyy more inspection oversight. If a very small fee is what it takes to get that done, so be it. I think this just exempts people who live in a building and rent out another floor or something and in my experience those properties are kept up a lot better since the landlord has to live there too.

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I think the idea...

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is that if you don't live on the property yourself, thus don't have much incentive to maintain it and care about who your tenants are, then you pay the fee.

Requiring it to be a small number of units AND requiring the landlord to live there makes sense. If someone owns just one unit, whether a single-family home or a condo in a large building, and they don't live there, then they're essentially an investment-type landlord and don't have much incentive to take care of the place or care about their neighbors. Same if someone owns several three-deckers; they can't live in all of them at once, and they're going to care a lot less about the ones they don't live in. If someone owns an apartment building with 50 units, even if they live there, that seems like they've pretty much made renting out apartments their job, and this should be treated differently than just renting out the other two units of one's own three decker.

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Still not fair

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We have single condo absentee landlords in our building who are good neighbors and GREAT landlords. I'm sure there are live-in landlords that are just as great and ones that are nightmares - and a lot who are "live in landlords" that rent the place out and live in Pembroke etc,

These kinds of exemptions are usually political ploys. they drive up revenues for the city, but because they ultimately get passed on to the tenants, it just makes one of the most expensive places in the country to live more expensive.

Perhaps worse - forget the fees - the live-in landlord that doesn't get inspected can do as much - or as little as s/he wants. The other landlords are at the whims of inspectors who, at the end of the day, probably have to come up with enough violations to justify their existence. I've had to deal with this on another matter - stuff that is perfectly fine for a decade all of a sudden becomes a "violation", even though we already remedied the situation to the prior inspector's satisfaction - the new guy interprets it differently and says you have to tear out what you did and do it the way I say. And you have no recourse.

Bottom line - laws should apply to everyone equally (including getting rid of that farce the residential exemption for taxes). If you're a landlord you're a landlord. If the city deems inspections necessary each turnover - then everyone should be inspected - no exceptions. Just because you live there (if you really do) doesn't automatically make you a good person and it only takes one bad egg renting out a windowless basement or a Victorian attic without a fire escape to cause a serious problem.

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How about

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Some laws that would allow landlords to evict problem tenants without having to jump through a bunch of hoops? Landlord should be able to serve an eviction notice after there's been a drug, gun or extreme violence arrest on premises without having to face a housing court equivalent of judge Dougan. That's why there's so many slumlords and absentee landlords in Boston right now, they know there's nothing they can do about their tenants, so they just move away and let their neighborhoods go down the shitter.

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I'm pretty sure there are so

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I'm pretty sure there are so many slumlords and absentee landlords in Boston because it's very profitable and there's no legal ramifications for them or enough housing stock to give people a decent choice. Or maybe my landlord hasn't properly fixed the leaky roof for over a year because my neighbors have a meth lab downstairs, that makes more sense.

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"Arrest?"

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How about at least waiting until the tenant has been proven guilty and sentenced first?

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Because that could take years

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Because that could take years. Former owner turned squatter crack head pimp and burglar took 4 - YES - 4 YEARS to evict despite the cops visiting every month and the guy getting caught with the stolen goods in his car. It's all in the police reports. He was a menace.

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Why protections exist

Problem tenants can be people who are an actual problem, or people who have, say, paid their rent for seven years on time in full but now are having a baby. Or that guy who has been great, but his husband just moved in ... or those nasty people who insist that they have some right to working heat in the winter! The nerve!

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Or they can just be a**holes.

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Chainsmoking, hoarding, wall-kicking, other-tenant-harassing, perpetually three-months-late with the rent (sorry! Forgot! We were on vacation!) I could carry on but let's just say I have a relative with a wonderful rental property--she is about the nicest lady on earth, a good landlord, and always fair and easygoing and still she's been put through hell by some real creeps over the years. And this is a small "professional" building. So--I understand that yes, there are some bad-guy-with-mustache type landlords but just because you rent doesn't make you Jean Valjean.

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Eh?

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Having a baby? Husband moved in? Well, guess what - all other tenants in the building have rights too, they don't have to put up with a screaming baby or a screaming husband 24/7. If the tenant is not following the rules outlined in the lease the landlord should have the right to kick him/her out, period. As for heat in the winter, we can probably heat up the whole city of Boston for years to come if we burn that strawman if yours.

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That part you missed

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You know, the one about state law forbids discrimination?

Yeah, that one.

Now grow up and buy a suburban house already.

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Discrimination?

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If your lease says no lid noises after 9pm that means no loud noises after 9pm, regardless of the noise source (loud music, loud husband, loud baby, etc.) It might not be a problem at an average bleeding heart uhub reader's $4000/month loft with two foot thick brick walls somehow rented on a $35000/year social worker/coffee jockey salary, where one wouldn't hear a cannon going off next door, but it's definitely a problem at most of the old buildings where walls are paper-thin and noise rules exist to make the space at least somewhat livable for everyone. So maybe YOU should either put a sock in that baby's/husband's mouth, or grow up and move to the suburbs like you originally suggested.

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Um, no

Massachusetts housing law is pretty explicit about landlords not being able to discriminate about families with children. Mass housing courts are pretty serious about enforcing that pretty generous about awarding triple damages and requiring deleading under court order.

If your lease says no lid noises after 9pm that means no loud noises after 9pm, regardless of the noise source (loud music, loud husband, loud baby, etc.)

If you are the same anon talking about "baby screaming 24 hours a day" and "husband screaming all the time" etc., perhaps you need to broaden your view and experience of family life beyond watching Eraserhead on repeat?

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Tenant rights

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You're right for once swirly, tenants do have rights. You know, all that funny legalese gibberish you see in the lease agreement - the right to peace and quiet at night, the right to clean, litter-free common areas, the right to drug and crime-free environment, etc. That's the expectations that are set when the lease is signed, and both parties are obligated to meet them - the tenants by following the rules, and landlords by removing the tenants who refuse to follow the rules. What's so hard to understand?

Strawmen?

Well, strawmen and women who collected triple damages off their landlords.

Except they were real people.

Discriminating against people with children is illegal. Discriminating against gay people is illegal. Retaliating for tenants exercising their right to a habitable premises is also illegal.

I'm hoping you are not a landlord. You are really ignorant of some of the most basic rights of tenants. Something tells me that you have never had to deal with the real rental market, though. If you are renting somewhere, you really need to go to one of those websites that will teach you what your rights are. http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/tenantsrights.pdf

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Not quite

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Refusing to rent to any of the above groups is illegal, but evicting them for not following the rules outlined in the lease certainly isn't. You see, all other tenants in the building have rights too, including the right to sleep at night without constantly waking up to the sound of a screaming baby or smashing dinnerware. That's what they expect when they sign at the dotted line, a landlord who's not able to provide what he promised is violating the agreement and is opening himself upto a lawsuit.

PS: anyone with that "its my bebeh, fuck the rest of the world" attitude isn't mature enough to have a kid in the first place. Also, we know every apartment building is Pottersville and every tenant is Mother Theresa on your planet, but that's certainly not the case around here

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Don't know what planet you live on

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including the right to sleep at night without constantly waking up to the sound of a screaming baby or smashing dinnerware

But you should stop watching Breaking Bad while doing drugs.

You are also wrong - you cannot evict someone for the same reasons you can't refuse to rent to someone.

Now ask mommy for a hot pocket.

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Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

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So you're saying a couple with a baby that screams all night and keeps the whole building awake cannot be evicted, and all other tenants should just suck it up and suffer? Something tells me you're writing this from the comfort of your single-family home in the suburbs or perhaps one of those uber-expensive new construction city apartments, where the nearest screaming baby that's not yours is separated from you by 500 feet of air a la swirly or a foot of solid concrete. In other words, your heart is bleeding from a safe distance - gotta love the do as I say crowd.

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Uh ...

Which of the anons are you, again?

Either you are having a conversation with yourself (given delusion levels, that's entirely possible), or there is another commenter here.

What are you saying? Because

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What are you saying? Because the tenant paid their rent before they get to not pay it now? Landlord has bills too. Mortgage taxes water sewer maintenance on the rental property along with their own living expenses. They probably have a family to support as well. Had a Tenant who was responsible for own heat call ISD because her heat bill was so high she thought she was paying for other units in the building. She wasn't (each unit has a separate furnace in basement). What she didn't tell inspector is that she kept her heat at 70 all day (even when not home) and left her windows open. Hello! my heat NEVER goes above 65 (can't afford it) . Figured her previous residence must have been a building with heat included. And oh yeah, her kid tagged the back of the building and the front sidewalk with fluorescent orange spray paint. Needless to say these parents didn't offer to clean it.

not really that tough

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you can evict pretty easily if you go to housing court or the BMC civil division. It will take a month, yeah, but judges have heard all the stories and are not that sympathetic to bad tenants.

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Good its a scam.

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They need to get rid of the fee for owner occupied buildings with up to 6 units as well. They don't inspect them and they already know they exist. IF they need more money to pay for their inspection program, they need to charge those they are inspecting more money… simple.

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City is anti small landlord

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Five years ago at a seminar for small time landlords I was told that city laws and regulations have changed to disfavor small time landlords. So it didn't surprise me when the city council passed a law mandating registration of all units.

Was the recent law supposed to create a registry? Well the registry supposedly already existed because each landlord was legally obligated to register their properties with ISD and arrange for an inspection prior to rental. In addition each inspection was charged a fee. In effect the most recent law is redundant. But then the city council does need to look busy.

From my experience with ISD however it is often a weapon used by lousy tenants to get back at good landlords who have enough of their misbehavior, such as late rental payments, major lease violations or actually damaging property. But like most political matters what talks is money. If somebody has enough money then they can play games with the city and ISD until either their building collapses or the cows come home. Small time landlords don't have that money - especially if they are spending what they earn on maintaining their rental. Big time landlords that hide behind corporations on the other hand rake in the cash and then distribute it wherever the cash makes their landlording live easier.

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"each landlord was legally

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"each landlord was legally obligated to register their properties with ISD and arrange for an inspection prior to rental."

You know damn well this never ever happens in Boston. Also tenants can't use ISD as a weapon if landlords are FOLLOWING THE LAW.

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Speaking from experience?

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I had a tenant who let her dogs defecate and urinate in the apartment and who smoked even though she agreed to not smoking in the apartment. She even used the apartment as a weekend kennel which is against the law. These restrictions were in the lease. I did my best to diplomatically remind her several times that this was inappropriate. To say I soft pedaled the language I used is an understatement. After six months I asked her to leave. I was lucky; she actually agreed to leave. On the other hand she did not pay her last month's rent and just before moving called ISD in and said my unit was horrible and requested an inspection. ISD did find minor violations which I was not aware of. So I came out ahead by learning some things that I had not been told about when I had the unit inspected.

But why did the tenant request an inspection just before leaving? Just pure pretty spite.

As for landlords being obligated to register their units I am afraid I disagree. The law has been on the books for many years. Passing another law repeating what is already on the books is just redundant. But what is silly is that if the law was not followed in prior years why would a redundant law be followed?

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Small time landlords cause big time problems

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Over the last two years Allston has had two fatalities and a serious brain injury due to fires in these poorly maintained and overcrowded properties. They were all one to three unit houses owned by absentee owners, none of them major property owners. It's about time the city started inspecting these properties and enforcing the code.

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Fires

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The city has for years taken good care of their large campaign contributors.
In 1971 eight people lost their lives living in a slumlord building at 50 Peterborough St., Fenway. The landlord got a slap on his hand and continued buying buildings.

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That was arson. And the owner

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That was arson. And the owner somehow got away with worse (entire building collapses, etc).

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Right; no consequences

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They've had a requirement for years that all rental properties be registered. Go search the registry, and you'll see that pretty much no one does this.

Several years ago, some people in our neighborhood association tried reporting unregistered rental properties to the city as a means of doing something about some absentee landlords who don't maintain their properties and don't have any standards for behavior of their tenants. The city flat-out said that they rely on landlords to register their properties, and they don't have any way of going out and checking whether a property is owner-occupied or is rented.

I assume that if someone is claiming the residential exemption and doesn't actually live there, the city does have ways of checking to see who lives there. But city departments don't talk to each other, so...

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dunno about that

Of all the things that are unduly intrusive, food and housing inspections are nowhere on my list. If I'm worried about the cleanliness of a hair salon, or if the beer at my pub is toxic, well, I can go somewhere else. But the food at my grocery store, the apartment I live in, the medicines I may need, and my water are in a different category.
Most of my landlords have been great people (though I've had some losers) but none of them were civil engineers, or trained in any way to be able to spot the myriad problems that can be hazardous-- one notably caused a CO2 problem in our building when he kindly did us tenants a favor by installing a dryer in the basement. Smaller landlords often try to save bucks by doing DIY projects above their skill level. I don't want to bust their asses, but if I'm going to pay them rent, then I want to know my residence is safe.

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It's about (pick any two)

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It's about (pick any two)

  • Anti-Fourth Amendment actions
  • A money grab by the City
  • Department of Homeland Security intrusions
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The law was passed by the

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The law was passed by the city council because Boston has major problems with a few slumlords that happen to have deep pockets, a large portfolio of properties, and armies of lawyers. Every other landlord is being punished because the city lacked the legal, financial, and motivated teeth to deal with the bad apples.

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Owner occupied is key

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So much of Boston's housing stock is triple deckers. An absentee landlord who doesn't take responsibility for their tenants can not only make the lives of the other owner-occupants miserable but also those of neighbors. I speak from experience. Having the city proactive on this can help.

Unfortunately it looks like the new mayor is more worried about protecting the monied class than the rest of us.

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“I’m assuming there’s going

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“I’m assuming there’s going to be a pushback, but if they have good, clean, strong properties in the city of Boston, they won’t have a problem passing the inspection,” Walsh said. “I’m really not concerned about them, to be quite honest with you.”

What does this mean when the inspector is at the rental? Will every violation be cited? Are their enough inspectors and are they knowledgeable enough and frankly smart enough to do the job? Of is this a way to add to city payroll by employing more inspectors? Is it a way to provide inspectors with details comparable to what police and firefighters add to construction site costs? What about violations that the inspector cites but are false such as those mentioned by the writer living in Back Bay? Will the city send inspectors into every college residential dorm? Is the city prepared to enforce all of the citations? What method will the city us to determine when to inspect a property? Will all landlords be treated equally? Will large corporate landlords be able to game the enforcement system with continuances and butt kissing and political contributions?

The city has always been in a position to determine what are rentals. The tax logs show where there are residential exemptions and where they don't exist. Is this how the city will determine where there are rentals now? How else would the city determine where there are rentals? If this is the method then why were housing codes not proactively enforced before this point? If the staffing didn't exist in the past what happened to create the staffing today? Have the number of accidents due to poorly housing stock increased enough justify this size of a policy change and enforcement? Or does it still ultimately come down to the city government looking for more ways to vacuum up more money whether for supposed city services and/or to create more city jobs and details?

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