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Legally too small or too crowded

Posted by Rona Fischman August 3, 2012 01:52 PM

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Last week, I gave the advice about safety and basic comfort to young people looking for their first place. I was called on the carpet for giving advice that did not include information about maximum number of occupants allowed and minimum size standards. That advice has been covered before, but I will reiterate for newcomers to BREN and newcomers to the Boston area:

Attorney Vetstein, on maximum occupancy without a lodging house license as of November 8, 2011:

the law requires a lodging housing license for any unit rented to four or more unrelated adults. City of Worcester officials cited the College Hill landlords for renting to 4 students in each apartment unit, without a proper license and without sprinkler systems. He went on the mention that there is ambiguity about whether this involves students only, or any group of unrelated adults. He also mentioned that the City of Boston allows up to five unrelated adults, by 2008 ordinance.

The key for me -- and my theme of safety last week -- is that when there are a lot of people in a space, there should be adequate fire safety. The work that the landlords in Worcester didnít want to do, in order to rent to large groups, was to add sprinklers.

Living space:

Attorney Vetstein states the requirements are:

150 s.f. of living space for the first person, 100 s.f. for each additional person (3 occupants = 350 s.f. of living space); 70 s.f. of bedroom space for 1st person, plus 50 s.f. for additional person (120 s.f. for 2 persons in one bedroom).

That would mean 450 SF of living space for four people and 550 SF of living space for five people.

The typical two-bedroom apartment is at least 600 SF, so I question how often these space requirements come into play with student rentals. When I search the public assessorís records for the City of Boston, there are 31,162 two-bedroom apartments listed. Of them, 549 were under 600 SF. In Cambridge, there are 7431 units and 103 of them are less than 600 SF. Of the 2703 in Somerville, 32 are less than 600 SF. Waltham has 11 out of the 3296 on record. (These are two-bedroom places, not four or five-bedroom.)

For those who are apartment hunting this week, I reiterate that safety comes first, then either price or comfort. If you are renting in a place with too many people for the law, it has the same risk as renting a place with other gross housing violations. Has anyone experienced being evicted for over-occupancy?

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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