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New Boston Ordinance Requires Registration and Inspection of Residential Rental Units

August 29, 2013

All owners of private residential rental units in the City of Boston must register annually with the Inspectional Services Department (“ISD”) no later than August 31, 2013, and no later than July 1st each year thereafter.  A rental unit is any “non-owner occupied room or group of related rooms within a dwelling used or intended for use by one family or household for living, sleeping, cooking and eating.”  This includes non-owner occupied condominium units.  Registration may be done in person, through the mail, or online at the following website: http://www.cityofboston.gov/isd/housing/rental.asp.

For each annual registration, the unit owner must sign a form provided by ISD, attesting that the owner is familiar with his or her obligations under the new registration and inspection ordinance, the State Sanitary Code, the State Building Code, Boston’s Zoning Code, fair housing laws, and all other applicable laws and regulations.  New property owners must register within 30 days of closing and submit a plan to remedy any deficiencies.  An owner owning multiple rental units in the same building may submit one form.  The initial fee for all rental unit registrations is $25 per unit, and the annual renewal fees is $15 per unit.  Fees are capped at $2500 maximum per building and $5000 maximum per complex, which is defined as two or more buildings on same parcel.

The owner of a non-owner occupied rental unit must also post and maintain in a location visible to residents a notice of at least 20 square inches including the name, physical address, and telephone number of the owner and any manager or resident who does not live in the dwelling.  P.O. Boxes are not sufficient to meet this requirement. 

Owners who fail to comply with the registration process are subject to a fine of $300 per month, and will be assessed one point in the 'Chronic Offender' point system (see below for details).

In addition to the new registration requirements, the City of Boston is now requiring all non-exempt rental units to be inspected at least once every five years.  A rental unit is not exempt unless it is owned or operated by the Federal, State, or City Government or located in a dwelling containing six or fewer rental units, one of which is owner-occupied.  Inspections may be performed by ISD inspectors, or by authorized non-ISD inspectors.  Annual inspections conducted by the Boston Housing Authority leased housing program, the Metropolitan Boson Housing Partnership leased housing program, or other Federal, State, or City inspection programs accepted by ISD may be used to satisfy the inspection requirement.  If a tenant occupies a unit scheduled for inspection, the tenant must be given reasonable notice.  If a tenant denies access, the owner shall notify ISD within seven days with a sworn statement from an authorized inspector.  Upon receipt of the statement, ISD will exempt that unit from inspection for one year.   

The inspection requirement can be fulfilled in two ways.  First, a rental unit owner can request an inspection from ISD within 30 days of receiving an inspection notice.  The Rental Program staff at ISD will contact the unit owner in advance of the time for the rental unit to be inspected and will provide instructions at that time.  The fee for the inspection by ISD is $50 per unit for buildings containing up to three units, and $75 per unit for all others. The fee provides for up to two inspections.  For three or more inspections, ISD will charge a fee of $50 per inspection for each rental unit inspected.  A unit owner may have the inspection conducted by an authorized non-ISD inspector, who has completed the ISD certificate program and has been issued a certificate of completion.  An authorized non-ISD inspector may charge no more than 133% of the fee charged by the City of Boston for an inspection.  If an authorized non-ISD Inspector is used rather than one from ISD, the inspector must sign and file a sworn statement certifying that the unit is in compliance with the State Sanitary Code.  Any sworn statement filed by an owner or authorized non-ISD inspector will cost $15, up to $2,500 per building or $5,000 per complex.  Owners whose units fail a non-ISD inspection must submit a plan acceptable to ISD that will bring the units up to code.  If a unit owner does not agree with the results of the inspection, the results may be challenged.

The second way in which the inspection requirement can be fulfilled is by having the unit owner apply for a five year alternative compliance plan, which must be approved by ISD and is subject to revocation if the unit subject to the plan has a violation of the Sanitary Code.  The fee for the alternative compliance plan is $50 for the first unit, and $10 for each additional unit in the same building, up to a maximum of $3,000 per building, or $6,000 for each multi-building complex.

After the owner has paid for an inspection, the owner may in turn charge tenants for up to 50% of the inspection fee or the filing fee paid to the city, with the charge spread equally over 12 months.

When a rental unit is vacated, the owner is required by law to contact ISD, or hire his or her own authorized non-ISD inspector to inspect the unit to ensure that it meets the standards of the State Sanitary Code.  If the owner is having the apartment inspected by ISD, he or she must request an inspection within 45 calendar days of a new occupancy of a unit. (The inspection does not have to take place within the 45 days.)  If the owner is instead having the apartment inspected by an authorized non-ISD inspector, he or she has 60 calendar days from the new occupancy of a unit to file with ISD a sworn statement and inspection form completed by the Authorized Inspector.  This requirement does not apply to units that have been comprehensively inspected by ISD within the preceding 12 months if such inspections have resulted in no notices of violation to the owner.

Problem Properties will be among the first inspected.  A Problem Property is any property where, within the preceding 12 months, the Police Department has been called to the property four or more times for an arrestable offense, the Air Pollution Control Commission has received four or more noise complaints, or ISD or the Public Health Commission has received four or more complaints for noxious, noisome, or unsanitary conditions.  Problem Properties must request an annual inspection from ISD and file an annual management plan, identifying the deficiencies in the property, proposed solutions, and a timeline to complete work.

ISD has created a Chronic Offender Point System for those who fail to register or comply with notices of violation.  Points accrue for failures to register or comply with notices of violation.  Chronic offenders are subject to fines and their units must be inspected every three years.

If you have any questions about this topic, please contact Brian S. Atherton in our Real Estate Group. 

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