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City looking at ways to levy fines on landlords who stuff too many students in their units

A city zoning rule that bans more than four undergraduates in an apartment isn't working, city officials said today, so they've begun looking at changes that would let them start levying fines on landlords who persist in overcrowding their units.

The problem, ISD Commissioner William Christopher said at a City Council hearing, is that zoning regulations carry no financial penalties - and inspectors can be turned away at the door. His department is looking at moving the rule into the city sanitary code - which does allow for fines, and lets ISD go into court for a subpoena or search warrant for units whose occupants or landlords try to turn away inspectors.

Christopher said that since the current ban on more than four undergrads went into effect in 2008, inspectors have only cited two properties for violations.

Christopher emphasized his goal is not to start levying fines left and right - and not to get students kicked out of apartments - but to simply ensure students have safe and sanitary living conditions. Unfortunately, he said, the only way to get some landlords to fix a problem is "is to affect their finances."

That's fine, city councilors Mark Ciommo (Allston/Brighton) and Josh Zakim (Mission Hill, Fenway) said. But even if the apartments are safe, they can still have significant impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods - such as noise, trash and public-safety issues - they said. "A lot of landlords are taking advantage of every nook and cranny in a house" to put in beds, Ciommo said.

They noted that the state sanitary code, which calls for a minimum of 150 square feet for the first residents and 100 for each additional resident, could still mean a triple decker filled with lots of students.

Former City Councilor Mike Ross, who came up with the zoning rule, said the goal was not necessarily to un-cram apartments, but to ensure that real-estate speculators didn't simply buy up entire neighborhoods to convert them into students housing. Despite the lack of enforcement, he said, the measure has had some success; he said one Mission Hill landlord is converting all his student apartments to professional and family housing. He pointed to increased on-campus dormitories as well as hundreds of new units being built along South Huntington Avenue that have restrictions on student renters.

Christopher said that while local colleges have worked to get the city addresses of buildings that house students, students in those units don't have to let inspectors in and they don't have to identify themselves as students. He said some landlords now tell students to refuse to let inspectors in.

"The city has never, ever evicted a student under this ordinance," he said. "We would never do that."

He said that for this current academic year, ISD identified 589 potential problem buildings in neighborhoods such as Allston, Brighton and Mission Hill. Of those, inspectors could only gain entry to 10%, he said.

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Comments

brighton, good place to start.

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Yes, this. And the apartments nearby that are getting to be so loud.

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isn't it (wasn't it originally, anyway) "no more than four unrelated"?

"No, you can't come in. And we're all cousins."

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The laws that are clearly designed to control students living situations, forcing higher rents by limiting places that they can live all in the disguise of safety

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Students aren't a protected class.

Equal protection under law has been dead for a long time.

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but, oh no, only 4 legal undergrads paying lots of $$$ into the local economy while not really taking away jobs from legal workers.

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The rents are being raised by landlords who take 2-3BR apartments, "convert" them so that every room is a bedroom, and then jack up the rent because rent is largely per-bedroom. When you're able to "make" a 5BR, at $600/room, you're making $3k/month.

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Try $900 a room.

IMAGE(https://femmolitical.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/too-damn-high-meme-generator-the-rent-is-too-damn-high-52014a-434x317.jpg?w=434)

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Based on what my students are telling me, try $1100-1400. Per bedroom. They're over the moon if they can find something under $1000.

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You can get a 1BR with a kitchen and bathroom the size of a small closet for $1800, and have one person live in the living room, and the other in the bedroom. It's what my sister's doing.

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I have a young relative with two kids who is living in a 1br because of rent cost.

They still have 200 square feet per person, though.

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They can live in the dorm or stay back in Connecticut where they belong.

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Yawn.

Maybe you should crawl into a cave somewhere.

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Allowing overcrowding actually drives rent higher. 3 typical college students can't afford a $4k 3 bedroom unit, but 6 of them can. If they weren't able to crowd in there, landlords would have reduced demand for high rent, low quality units and would have to lower rents.

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Having multiple occupants in a car eases road shortages just as multiple occupants in a residential unit eases housing shortages. Stuffing people into an apartment is easier than a car because there are no logistical problems of going to and from similar places. In both cases occupants are motivated to share and save money.

Some theory claims building more roads only encourages more use of them, so there is no winning. Well, there is no winning in building more housing. it just encourages lower occupancy density, waste of space, and more people to move into an area, exhausting the housing that got built, allegedly just as roadway gets exhausted.

How do we penalize government for undersupplying roadway? That's the problem I want fixed.

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its been established that information gained by torture is unreliable.

Torturing motorists by constricting roadway has not put them on scooters or bicycles, within the margin of error of measurements. Add in parking shortages and price hikes, and then there is some success of coercion to use buses.

BTW, bogus photo. Why are mopeds spread out but cyclists all parked together? Clearly unrealistic - typical of anti-car propaganda.

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You didn't actually look at the photo Markky!!! There are no bikes/mopeds in the image, just cars/road/people/streetcar!

Get real dude.

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Anyone not sitting by himself in a car might as well be riding a bike made of unicorn hair and granola, and doesn't even register in our eyes, man

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The small images flashed by quickly and I wasn't expecting people to be sitting on chairs in the middle of the road. If the images had been cars/scooters/bikes/pedestrians/streetcar then it might have made some sense.

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picture is

car -> seats as distributed in a car -> seats as distributed in street car -> street car

Not that hard to understand.

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It is if you're stupid.

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Torture is right. Drivers who insist on driving into a large city during rush hour instead of carpooling, biking or taking public transportation are basically war heroes for what they put themselves through. Those who complain about the traffic they willfully put themselves into day after day are the bravest among us.

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and over again on purpose doesn't make you a hero. It makes you a masochist. Or fool.

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It would help if transit didn't suck as much. It takes me 1 hr to get to work via bus, train, bus, or 2 buses. 35ish minutes in traffic by car. 25 minutes by bike. Guess which one I choose more often (up yours, Markk).

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Its called induced demand, and you are probably thinking of a pretty good study done in 2009 by Turner and Duranton. If you had ever bothered to read that study (or others), you would realize that it is impossible to keep up with an alleviate traffic in densely populate areas unless we say put in a 100 lane highway going everywhere.

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I'm saying that unlike road building, public officials are supporting more building of housing and it just leads to people taking up more space for themselves, more people living alone and similar anti-social behavior. If you keep building housing, "they" will come and keep demanding more housing, just as road demand is (falsely) purported to increase without bound.

In reality, we know driving does not because it still costs to drive, people's time is worth something, and they don't drive around for no reason. In 1970 Mass. Governor Sargent put highway building on hold. About 1 trillion vehicle miles were traveled on US roads that year. Since then, women became a larger part of the workforce, vehicle ownership increased, and today, driving is at record levels, almost 3 trillion miles. Boston, Cambridge and many towns have actually reduced the number of vehicle lane miles. Rt. 3 got 1 each way added for part as has 128. Pretty poor for a tripling in miles traveled, GDP growth and population growth.

Another commenter showed that Boston's population declined, while housing stock grew! Drivers deserve increases, not net decreases.

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Fifteen extended family members hotsheeting a two-bedroom apartment = safe

Right.

If it is about safety, set rules for safety and apply them to everyone, unrelated or not. One's occupation should have absolutely nothing to do with it.

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The rules on amount of space required for living quarters still applies.

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Explain what the city's plans are to enforce this.

As if a bunch of dead kids burned to death after being huddled around a space heater wasn't enough?

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Sorry, you'll have to ask them.

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The extended family of 15 in one apartment probably aren't throwing keggers every other night either.

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It is a good bet that a couple of them come home drunk on a regular basis and start yelling matches, and also that several of them smoke indoors even when they aren't supposed to. All with small children present, mind you.

I've crunched the data for HUD in Lowell - I doubt that similar Boston situations are any different.

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I don't understand that one.

Look. That mythical 8 bedroom house is cut up into 2 4 bedroom apartments. Now, everyone is legal. and you really think those keg parties will stop?

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Based purely on the definition of job or occupation, undergraduate student is not an occupation. You're paying to be a student, not getting paid.

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Rights accrue to your humanity, not how you spend your time.

The "safety" issues supposedly have to do with crowding, not occupation or student status.

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Based on the actual definition of occupation ( An activity or task with which one occupies oneself ), being a student is an occupation.

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If the city kicks out a "hardworking family doing what it takes to make ends meet!!!" the city looks mean.

If the city kicks out a bunch of North-Face wearing undergraduates from the 'burbs and their Solo cups, the city looks like it cares about its workaday citizens.

Doesn't matter which is more "right."

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dumber laws that skirts the real problem. Glad to see they're at least going to start penalizing landlords, but the number of undergrads is beyond arbitrary, as pointed out in other comments.

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Chilling. ISD can get "a subpoena or search warrant for units whose occupants or landlords try to turn away inspectors."

And, from ex-city councilor Mike Ross:

"Despite the lack of enforcement, he said, the measure has had some success; he said one Mission Hill landlord is converting all his student apartments to professional and family housing."

Yep. And those units will rent at higher prices. The opposite of what he said would happen.

I believe that most leases have a paragraph that states only those people on a lease can live in an apartment. So, are the students not signing the contract, are they leaving out tenants, are the real estate agents overlooking it when five people are on a lease and they list their jobs as "undergraduate student"? Should real estate brokerages be responsible for ensuring the law is followed?

(Post edited.)

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Those units will be maintained and rented to local employees compared to student slums which are decrepit and not adding to greater workforce housing market.

Student slumlords get high rent for ill maintained properties that any other class of tenant would be screaming bloody murder to get repairs or renovations to.

Section 8 housing vouchers call for higher standards of housing than some student slumlords provide at a premium price.

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Chilling. ISD can get "a subpoena or search warrant for units whose occupants or landlords try to turn away inspectors."

And just what is wrong with that?. If landlords are stupid (or arrogant) enough to tell ISD inspectors to FO, then they DESERVE to have a subponea or search warrant slapped on them.

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There are reasons why they need to go to a judge to get one ... like, to prevent abuse of power. Their requesting a warrant does not mean that they would automatically get a warrant - that would be entirely up to the judge.

Of course they are just saying this to bluster and posture and wave their authority around in the wind - I would hope that most judges would say "don't you have better things to do than hound students with search warrants?" absent other pressing issues (serious fire code violations and the like).

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in their unit (probably from tip or complaint). ISD shows up and requests to look around. Landlord tells ISD two words.

Going to a judge to get a search warrant is perfectly reasonable under these circumstances. And you really want the judge to respond to ISD's request for a search warrant with "go away, don't you have better things to do." Last I checked, overoccupancy of a dwelling is a CODE VIOLATION.

Now if the landlords were parking their cars in bike lanes, you'd be totally in favor of slapping them in irons, right?

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The exact nature of the employment of tenants as a determinant of over occupancy? No.

A five bedroom, 2000 square foot house or unit is not overoccupied with five people in it, regardless of how those people happen to spend their days and nights. They have more space per person than I have ever had in my life, and certainly more than I have in my current home.

An 800 square foot 2 bedroom apartment with 15 people sleeping there is over occupied, regardless of what those people do with their time and regardless of their relationship to one another.

One doesn't need a warrant to slap a ticket on or tow away an illegally stored vehicle. False equivalence - ten yard penalty. First down.

IMAGE(http://cdn.meme.am/instances/500x/63742220.jpg)

One more thing to consider, Roadman: if they start pulling the search warrant trick absent other evidence of critically dangerous violations, they will most likely end up having their pet ordinance being thrown out in court under 14th amendment concerns, as it is bizarrely discriminatory.

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Our housing stock in the Boston area is woefully unprepared for the current population. Who is a landlord with a 6-bedroom house supposed to rent to? No family can afford to pay $800 per bedroom. The laws should reflect the realities of the housing stock. Unless you provide incentives for owners to break up large houses into the always in-demand Studios, 1 BR & 2 BR apartments, you're going to have landlords renting to groups of 6 or more college students, young people, or immigrants.

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was 800,000 in 1950. where did all those people live?? currently we're at like 650,000 I think. It doesn't make sense to me. Maybe that figure is not counting the students.

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Fewer children (I believe), fewer people per household (see link)

http://imgur.com/jgzlTCP

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Cohabitate. Live with some housemates and roommates if you don't have a house full of kids. Government just needs to figure out a way to force people to share housing the way they force people to drive alone less.

People are just being as selfish as those who drive cars alone.

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Larger families with lots of kids (plus no rules on how many occupants lived in a place) and fewer people living alone. Also, no more boarding houses.

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The West End.

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It isn't always the landlord looking to make money. It is sometimes the students looking to save money and moving more people in without the landlord's knowledge or permission. This is easy to do if the landlord is absentee and doesn't check on the property.

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"They noted that the state sanitary code, which calls for a minimum of 150 square feet for the first residents and 100 for each additional resident, could still mean a triple decker filled with lots of students"

I don't understand targeting "undergraduate students". Just enforce the sanitary code as above if overcrowding is the problem. If there are loud parties, enforce the noise laws. How do you define "undergraduate student anyway? If someone works 25 hours a week and takes 3 classes a semester is he/she an "undergraduate student". Is it OK for 3 "undergraduate students" and 3 graduate students to live together? Is it OK for 5 20 year olds who work, but don't go to school to live together?

They are floundering to find a solution, when they already have enforcement tools.

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But how will this affect me, living in a 120sqft Menino "micro-apartment" with my 6 imaginary waifus? Five of them claim to be "undergraduate students" and one self-identifies as an Apache helicopter.

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Lol whatever, this isn't going to change anything because ISD barely manages to enforce existing health/sanitation rules. One of my friends (not a student) currently doesn't have a ceiling since the pipes above it have been slowly leaking for months and the cement and plaster finally gave up ...... she can't get an inspector out for anything, and of course the landlord doesn't give a shit if the government isn't breathing down his neck.

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I had a tenant who let her dog void on my deck letting dog wasted pour onto the 1st floor deck. She also used my apartment as a weekend kennel (she had a dog grooming business so apparently kenneling was a side job). After asking her to stop (and to stop bouncing checks) I gave her 60 days notice (more than required). Her response was to call ISD a few weeks before she left. ISD responded within days. (Her retaliation worked to my advantage though - I had minor violations which I didn't realize were a violation such as a sign in the apartment listing the landlord's contact information. A stupid rule since they have a lease but it's the rules and now I know better.)

If ISD is refusing to respond then call the city councilor to get ISD to move. ISD is a lousy organization. They are glacially slow with permits (a travesty for any public agency) and let themselves be used as a weapon for vengeful tenants. Not exactly the kind of agency that makes a city proud. So use the city councilor to put pressure on ISD to send someone out to cite the landlord.

Leaking pipes are a health hazard. They provide a vector for bacteria and bad mold to grow. Your friend is hurting him or herself by letting this continue.

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