After a slow start marked by landlord opposition, Boston’s new registry of apartments has more than doubled its entries in the last three weeks, city inspectors said Monday.
The database, designed to make landlords accountable for tenant safety, now contains information on more than 80,000 rental units in a city with 140,000 apartments, said Bryan Glascock, commissioner of the Inspectional Services Department. A large backlog of paper registrations continues to be processed, he added.
“The vast majority of good landlords realize that this is something that needs to happen, and it’s sort of unfair to them that you have bad landlords that cut corners and put people at risk,” Glascock said.
The update, three days after a porch collapse injured 12 people at a Mission Hill apartment, was issued while a landlord group protested at City Hall that mandatory inspections required under the new ordinance are unconstitutional.
“I personally find it offensive,” said Lenore Schloming, president of the Small Property Owners Association. “It’s as if I have to ask permission to be a landlord in the city.
“We have the right to have private property and shouldn’t be accountable to the city to get permission to rent it,” she said.
Mandatory inspections are now required every five years for many units, and landlords must pay a $25 registration fee this year for each apartment they own. The fee will drop to $15 next year and beyond.
Schloming said the inspections are at odds with the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
“We feel it’s an invasion of privacy,” Schloming said. “That’s why they should have to get warrants. And to get a warrant, you would have to have a specific violation in mind.”
Uncovering hidden violations, however, is a key to preventing injuries and worse, Glascock said.
The commissioner cited the third-floor porch collapse in Mission Hill Friday, across from Mission Church on Tremont Street, as an example of the need for mandatory inspections.
Over Labor Day weekend, as college students returned to off-campus apartments, city inspectors issued more than 2,000 tickets for violations. Tenants were not allowed to move into 30 units at two buildings, which the city condemned.
“Let’s find the problems before they turn into disasters,” Glascock said. “If it takes a tenant to complain in order to get something resolved, we’ve sort of waited too long.”
Glascock said the city will use advertisements and direct-mail reminders to reach landlords who have not yet filed.
Boston officials plan to be accommodating with many late registrants, Glascock said, but the city is prepared to fine tardy landlords up to $300 a month per unit.
“If you’re somebody we’ve been dealing with over the years — a problem landlord with a problem property — and we have to find you, we’ll be a little less forgiving,” Glascock said.
The computer registry is projected to be a comprehensive database of rental units and landlords in the city, said Glascock.
Once completed, he added, contact information will be readily available during emergencies, and city officials will have a faster, simpler way to identify a problem landlord without the need to sift through assessing and other records.
“Many times, tenants are paying money to a management company and do not have any way to get in touch with the landlord” during emergencies such as power outages and a loss of heat, Glascock said.
In addition, he said, “it’s putting landlords on notice that sometime in the next five years, they will have to have their rental units inspected.”
Under the plan, building inspectors will visit 20 percent of the city’s registered rental properties each year, meaning that all properties will be scrutinized every five years. In 2014, during the program’s first year, inspectors will focus on properties with a history of violations, as well as some randomly selected units.
Inspections will be waived for owner-occupied buildings with up to six units, Glascock said. The exemption is based on a premise that owners living in their buildings are more likely to adhere to health and safety codes.
Kathy Brown, coordinator for the Boston Tenant Coalition, supports the registry.
“It’s important that the city knows who owns property and that the property is inspected from time to time,” Brown said. “A lot of tenants don’t know they have a right to complain or are fearful of some kind of retribution.”
Schloming countered that most tenants are not afraid to complain and that they occasionally call for inspections over trivial violations as an excuse to stop paying rent.