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  Thursday, March 5, 2015
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xtra xtra!
September 5, 2013
The Rental Registry Boondoggle
By Rick Winterson

Five-year inspections of Boston’s rental units are to begin next year, 2014, with necessary enforcement to follow.  In addition, rental property owners must “re-register” their rental properties every year, and then pay another fee each year for this (?) privilege.

The ISD’s prior attempts to log in all rental properties had failed, with compliance close to zero.  This led to a “complaint-based system” that generated more than 20,000 complaints each year.  As just one example of the problems this has caused, the Allston house fire that killed a BU student had 19 renters in a two-family dwelling, which hadn’t been inspected by the ISD for decades.

Why hasn’t the ISD enforced its existing rental ordinances?  Or followed up more completely?  We wonder if this “registration” is a way to get the ISD out from under its huge backlog of complaints, while resetting its lack of compliance “back to zero”, by way of a quick amendment and more paperwork.

So far, compliance with the amended ordinance has also been weak.  Less than one-third of Boston’s rental properties were registered late in August.  Many landlords had objected.  With the multi-day City Hall closures over Labor Day, registration still might be less than half done.  One problem is the poorly drafted ordinance itself; another is the lack of notice – no rental property owner whom we asked had received the postcard reminders the ISD claims were sent out to all owners.

There are approximately 150,000 rental units in Boston, where more than 400,000 residents live.  Simply logging in all of the new registrations will be a staggering task.  In 2014 – just four months from now - the new ordinance requires that the ISD start inspecting about 150 rental units every single working day (!) for five full years.  And that does not include time for processing complaints that come into the ISD from rental tenants.

The Rental Housing Registration and Inspection Program (as amended) needs to be delayed, or even canceled, until its provisions can be made far more practical and enforceable.  As it stands, the Program just won’t work.

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