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New Rental Registration Ordinance Approved in Boston

As of July 1, 2013, owners of rental property in the City of Boston will be subject to a new rental registration ordinance.  The new law, introduced by Mayor Menino and approved by a 9-4 vote of the city council, will require owners of rental property to register with the city each year, pay an annual fee per unit (initially $25 per unit, then $15 per unit in subsequent years), and be subject to regular inspections once every five years.  In addition, landlords must post their contact information in a visible location in the building, and property owners who do not live in Massachusetts must designate a Boston-based resident agent to accept service of process on the owner’s behalf. 

The measure, which was opposed by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and councilors Frank Baker, John Connolly, William Linehan and Michael Ross, applies to all apartments not occupied by the property owner, including condominium units.  Notably, owner-occupied buildings containing six or fewer units are exempt – a provision advocated for by GBREB – along with lodging houses and units owned or operated by city, state and federal governments.  Other amendments secured by GBREB include a reduction in the registration fee from $50, which was first proposed, an increase from three to five years in the inspection cycle, and a requirement that the city’s Inspectional Services Department be required to report back to the City Council on the law’s effectiveness.

It is expected that the new fees created by the ordinance will generate an estimated $2.1 million in new revenue for the city.  In addition, a chronic offender registry will be established to identify landlords who habitually fail to fix problems in their apartment units.  These individuals will be subject to $300 fines for violations as well as other potential penalties and enforcement actions.  GBREB officials, who advocated for registrations at the time of property sale or transfer of ownership, maintain that the ordinance won’t properly address the issue of substandard housing.   The law replaces an existing ordinance which requires inspection at the time of lease expiration and will effect about 140,000 rental units in Boston.  

Click here for a general legal advisory regarding this topic.