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Rental inspection rule OK’d by council

Most rental apartments across Boston will have to be inspected every five years, under a measure approved Wednesday by the City Council.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed a new rental-inspection ordinance earlier this year after a number of citations were issued in August and September, including at a pair of Fenway row houses where more than 100 rats were found.

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“Landlords must be held responsible when it comes to providing safe and healthy housing for their tenants,” Menino said in a statement Wednesday.

The council passed the measure 9 to 4, with Councilors Frank Baker, John R. Connolly, Bill Linehan, and Michael P. Ross opposed.

Ross said he supported the requirement that owners of multiple-unit rental structures register with the city and become part of a new database. But he felt the policy cast too wide a net and would divert resources that should be used to address problem properties.

“If we want to bring a bad landlord into compliance, the way to do that is to go after the bad landlord. It’s not to go after all landlords,” he said.

Ross said the ordinance would create an additional burden for the city’s Inspectional Services Department and require hiring new inspectors with money that could be spent on police, teachers, or street workers.

The ordinance will create 11 inspector jobs at a total cost of $766,000 per year, bringing the total number of inspectors to 19. Councilor Matt O’Malley stressed that the figure was $460,000 less than the 17 new hires Menino had proposed.

Fewer inspectors would be needed, O’Malley said, because the ordinance had been amended to set the inspection interval at five years instead of three.

The extra expense will be offset by new revenue from fees that include a $25 first-time registration fee and $15 annual renewal fee for each housing unit, said Brian Swett, chief of the Office of Environmental and Energy Services. The city will also collect more inspection fees, which run $50 per unit for buildings of up to three units and $75 per unit for buildings of four or more units.

O’Malley said the ordinance will exempt owner-occupied buildings of up to six rental units and provide alternative compliance plans for landlords with no history of problems. Section 8 and other federally subsidized housing is exempt .

Existing law requires inspections only when apartments change hands, but fewer than 10 percent of landlords comply.

“This is about protecting tenants, protecting those lower-income and middle-income folks, making sure they have a safe, clean, and healthy place to live,” O’Malley said.

Swett said 98 percent of the city’s 20,000 annual inspections are based on complaints.

The new database will include a chronic-offender registry, Swett said. The registry, Swett said, would be a resource for the city but also for renters.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
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