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Brokers targeted in Boston's latest crackdown on student rowdies

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 31, 2009 10:28 AM

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Here’s a proposal that is bound to stir up some controversy, both in the real estate industry and beyond.

The Boston City Council is preparing to debate plans to slap a $300 fine on real estate brokers who rent out a single apartment to five or more students.

It’s the latest in a campaign by City Councilor Michael Ross to rein in student rowdies in the neighborhoods.

Ross, as you may recall, led the charge that led to last year’s change to the city’s zoning code that prohibits more than four students sharing a single apartment.

That proposal triggered some pretty fierce reactions, both from residents of Boston neighborhoods fed up with Animal House-style antics and from small landlords arguing the proposal was unfair.

I guess one basic question is with the new rules already on the books, why the need for an additional penalty?

After all, city inspectors are already authorized to go after landlords who violate the new regulations.

My suspicion, though, is that the first proposal, in fact, is proving harder to enforce than first thought, leading Ross and City Councilor Maureen Feeney, to try and attack the problem from a new angle.

After recently chatting with Ross on the phone, I hardly came away convinced that the crackdown so far has been a stunning success.

He mentioned a handful of cases that city inspectors have brought under last year’s proposal, hardly the avalanche I would have expected given all the talk about rowdy students tearing up the social fabric of Boston’s neighborhoods.

The new proposal is aimed at brokers that Ross contends are marketing deliberately to students and knowingly violating the rules.

One argument raised against the new rules has been the difficulty proving someone is actually a student. After all, we don’t live in a police state and this is something one could easily lie about.

That, critics say, puts landlords in an impossible situation.

But Ross contends these brokers know full well they are packing students into apartments. He questions whether landlords and brokers could be so blissfully unaware of whether their new tenants are students given the extensive background checks anyone who has ever rented an apartment has invariably endured.

“We are not talking about a tremendous amount of people,’’ Ross said. “A few real estate brokers are causing or willingly engaging in practices that are destabilizing our neighborhoods. It’s not destabilizing to rent to college students, but it is by turning whole homes into dorms.’’

Anyway, a hearing on the new proposal is slated to be held in the next several weeks.

It should prove interesting, to say the least.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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