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Menino to crack down on ‘problem properties’

Under proposal, landlords could face punitive fees

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / May 17, 2011

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Boston landlords whose buildings demand repeated visits from authorities because of crime, noise, and other disruptive behavior may soon get billed $48 an hour to have a police officer stationed outside their door.

Owners of persistently troubled residences could also face $300 fines each time police and other authorities are forced to return to the same address.

The punitive fees are part of a broad initiative that will be proposed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino to crack down on absentee landlords whose rowdy apartment houses have riled neighbors for decades. Menino is expected to sign an executive order today creating a task force with the power to designate “problem properties’’ that will be subject to fines and bills for police overtime.

In order to give teeth to the regulations, the mayor’s office will also submit legislation to the City Council establishing a strict definition for what constitutes a problem property and giving the police commissioner authority to charge landlords for overtime incurred by a police detail.

“We will not allow problem properties to drag down the quality of life in our neighborhoods and negatively impact our residents that live and raise families here,’’ Menino said yesterday in a statement. “Now, residents will have the full weight of the city and all of our resources on their side when it comes to absentee landlords who ignore their responsibility to their neighbors.’’

Properties requiring four visits in a year from police, code enforcement, or health inspectors would be referred to the new task force. The 12-member body would meet monthly, and it would include the police commissioner, the fire commissioner, and other top city officials. The task force would review each case individually before designating a building or house as a problem property. For example, city officials briefed on the plan said yesterday that they do not want to penalize someone for repeatedly calling police because they are a victim of domestic violence.

Once the task force identifies a problem property, a notice would be placed on the front door as a warning to tenants that the building has been put on notice. The landlord would also be informed via certified mail.

From that point, each infraction issued by city authorities would incur a fine of $300.

After eight visits from police, the commissioner would have the authority to assign surveillance or an overtime detail at the owner’s expense. Unpaid fines and bills would be added to property taxes. Landlords would have seven days to appeal the commissioner’s decision. A hearing would then be held before a separate board that would include a representative from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and a community member from a crime watch or neighborhood organization.

The proposal follows a shooting this month at the Savin Hill T station that killed a 19-year-old man. After the shots were fired, several young men ran to a nearby apartment house that has long drawn complaints from neighbors.

City councilors Stephen J. Murphy, Maureen E. Feeney, and Michael P. Ross are drafting similar proposals to levy fines and other punitive measures against property owners who do not care for their buildings.

“You generally do not see it if the landlords live in the structure,’’ said Murphy, the City Council president. “That’s because the landlord is like having a sheriff in town.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at aryan@globe.com.