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City Council hearing on Boston rental registration and inspection program draws harsh criticism

Howard Manly | 9/20/2013, 6 a.m.

A City Council hearing on Boston’s new rental registration and inspection program scheduled this week was cancelled and is now being held on Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. at Boston City Hall – much to the chagrin of City Councilor Charles Yancey.

According to Yancey, Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina, chair of the Committee of City, Neighborhood Services and Veterans Affairs, cancelled the hearing, originally scheduled for Sept. 16, because Brian Swett, chief of the city’s Environmental and Energy Services Cabinet, would not be able to attend the hearing.

Yancey said he was extremely displeased when he was told of the meeting’s cancellation. “I am profoundly disappointed with Councilor LaMattina’s decision to cancel the hearing that he had originally agreed to hold.” 

Yancey pointed out that Bryan Glascock, commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department, could have represented Swett at the hearing. “I find it somewhat disturbing that the reason he gave for canceling the hearing is that one member of the administrative staff could not attend,” Yancey said in a statement.

Yancey said the cancellation represents another example of a bureaucracy disrupting the lives of members of the public who only want to abide by the law, earn an honest living and provide decent housing for tenants.

Yancey originally ordered the public hearing in August following a closed meeting with representatives of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department in which he was dissatisfied with the administration’s responses to questions regarding the new ordinance.

“There are many lingering and unanswered questions that need to be answered. We need to have a public dialogue for all of Boston to attend so they can get the answers they need from the officials who will be enforcing this order,” he said.

The new rental registration and inspection program requires all property owners of private rental units to register their properties at an initial registration fee of $25 per unit. The cost for registration after the first year will be $15 per unit annually. In addition to the registration fee, the ordinance also requires private nonexempt rental units to be inspected on a five-year cycle starting January 2014.

Yancey asked Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to immediately suspend the program until a public hearing could be held.

“It’s a shame that residents are expected to comply with an ordinance they don’t fully understand,” Yancey said. “The ordinance shouldn’t move forward until there is absolute clarity and transparency concerning all aspects of this ordinance. It’s not fair to the citizens of Boston and they deserve better.”

Over the past six weeks, city officlas said they have seen a dramatic increase in rental registration with more than 80,000 units registered from more than 14,000 different landlords.

Almost 60 percent of the covered units under the Rental Inspection Ordinance, which passed the City Council in December 2012, are now registered.

Over Labor Day weekend, city officials said inspectors fanned out over Boston’s student neighborhoods providing rental inspections and uncovering numerous violations of building and sanitary codes.

In one instance, a large apartment building was found to have an asbestos release and to be leaking raw sewage adjacent to an illegal basement unit where an immigrant family had been living for years.

“This measure is essential to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all Bostonians, but especially low-income populations, elderly residents, recent immigrants and college students,” Menino said.