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Boston inspectors issued nearly 3,000 fines for sanitary, housing code violations during move-in stretch

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  September 8, 2012 06:00 AM

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Boston city inspectors issued more than 2,800 fines for sanitary code violations along with more than 100 abatement orders and 20 fines for housing code infractions during college students' busy move-in period.

In addition, the city scheduled condemnation hearings for three properties, as officials cracked down over a four-day period this month.

Despite the eye-popping numbers, city officials said the figures appear to be lower than in prior years.

“There’s always things we can improve, but folks in the community and even the landlords said they feel like this year’s move-in went better than in past years,” Bryan Glascock, acting commissioner for the city’s Inspectional Services Department, said by phone Thursday.

He said a large number of landlords this year brought dumpsters to their property and hired private services to help clean up refuse that otherwise might be abandoned in hallways, on stoops or curbside. Universities also did more this year to clean up messes left by those moving during the hectic Sept. 1 rental turnover period.

“Years ago we’d have tons and tons of trash up and down the streets,” department spokeswoman Lisa Timberlake said. “It seems our outreach efforts are working.”

Still, tens of thousands of dollars in code violation tickets were written between Fri. Aug. 31 and Mon. Sept. 3.

About two-thirds of the trash and sanitary code citations and about half of the housing citations were issued in the student-filled neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton, according to figures provided by the city’s inspection department.

Teams of inspectors with expertise in housing, environmental sanitation, building, plumbing and electrical codes toured the city, Timberlake said. They honed in on areas densely populated by college students, as an estimated 70,000 of them flocked to Boston for the start of the fall semester.

Inspectors visited hundreds of rental properties, sometimes acting on complaints.

In addition to doling out fines, the inspectors handed out more than 2,500 brochures with information about housing, health and safety, rodent control, city services, traffic and parking rules, Timberlake said.

And, she said the city will soon mail out to landlords more than 350 notices detailing the city’s rental property ordinance, which includes a mandate that property owners arrange to have a unit inspected within 45 days after its tenants turn over.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced last week a proposal that would bring sweeping changes to that ordinance making landlords more accountable for providing suitable living conditions, largely by bolstering how rental properties are inspected.

A total of 2,810 trash and sanitary code citations were issued, city records show.

About 1,565 tickets were issued for improper storage of household trash and 765 for overfilling trash barrels, which at fine amounts of $25 and $50 a piece, respectively, add up to more than $77,000 in value.

Another 275 citations were issued for illegal dumping of less than one cubic yard and 122 for overgrown weeds, city records show. Other infractions included: no posted building number; occupying city property without a permit; illegal parking on property; non-emergency auto repair; illegal dumping of between one and five cubic yards; and improper storage of commercial trash.

Beyond Allston and Brighton, other neighborhoods where a sizeable number of citations were given out included: Fenway, Mission Hill, the North End, Back Bay and downtown.

The 20 housing fines issued went to landlords who failed to meet the city’s standards for delivering rental property in a safe and sanitary condition to new tenants. Landlords received fines of up to $300 and have been given up to 14 days to correct any violations or they could face additional fines.

Infractions that can warrant such a citation include: units that have insufficient fire and carbon monoxide detectors; lack of working electricity, plumbing or heating; failure to post landlord contact information; and living space that poses health and safety dangers.

The 121 abatement orders issued do not include fines. Instead, the abatement orders require landlords to correct violations within a certain timeframe, Timberlake said. Violations that are not corrected can lead to the filing of a criminal complaint in housing court.

Three properties have been scheduled for condemnation hearings, according to city data. Two of the properties are in Allston and one is in Mission Hill. Timberlake said that adult families, not students, lived at all three properties.

Such hearings are ordered when a full or partial condemnation of a property is recommended by city inspectors due to conditions deemed uninhabitable or other serious violations, she said. Hearings allow for landlords, inspectors and tenants to testify and a decision is issued within 7 to 10 days after the hearing to determine next steps, including condemning the space.

Last Friday, the start of the recent move-in weekend, Menino and other city officials conducted a door-to-door walkthrough and unit inspections in an area in Allston around Pratt, Gardner, Ashford and Linden streets, where rental properties have repeatedly been found to have code violations.

Glascock told the Globe Friday that officials found problems at 45 Ashford St., including numerous complaints of pests, including rodents, roaches and bedbugs. Walking through the building, inspectors also found more problems, including spilled oil and asbestos.

Last winter, during a sweep of that area of Allston, city inspectors found 82 violations ranging from infestations and missing banisters to faulty carbon monoxide detectors, blocked exits, and illegal living spaces at 25 units.

Last month, city officials announced that an infestation of more than 100 rats and 50 burrows had been found around two apartment buildings in a section of Fenway popular with students.

Students and other city residents can report problems via the city’s smart phone application Citizen’s Connect. This month, the app launched a new category that allows student to report poor conditions in their rental properties.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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