A small army of city inspectors will soon be fanning out across Boston, picking over apartments for unsanitary conditions, mold, structural problems, and other hazards to tenants.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and other officials lauded the start of a new approach to inspecting the some 150,000 apartments in Boston: looking for problem units before conditions get so bad that residents have to bring them to the city’s attention.
Previously, nearly every one of the 20,000 inspections conducted in Boston each year were prompted by complaints from tenants. Now, inspectors will ensure most apartments in Boston will be inspected at least once every five years, with landlords and properties with a history of code violations and tenant complaints being first on the target list.
“No Bostonian should have to live with these threats to their health because of irresponsible property owners,” Walsh said at an event outside a condemned Mattapan house owned by an Florida loan company. “We’re going to make these property owners clean up their property.”
Landlords who flunk multiple inspections will end up on a public list of chronic offenders, and face fines every month they fail to remedy violations.
“We’re going to be very aggressive in going after these fines,” Walsh said.
But some landlords will also qualify for city programs to help them repair problems, officials said. The proactive inspection campaign will exclude owner-occupied buildings with six or fewer units — unless a tenant complains about conditions.
The new inspection program was first approved by the Boston City Council in 2012, but the launch follows a string of accidents at rental properties. Last September, the porch of a three-family apartment building on Mission Hill collapsed, injuring 12 people. And last April, a Boston University student died in a fire at an overcrowded Allston apartment building that had not been inspected since 1992.
The owner of the Allston home, Anna Belokurova, was cited for running an illegal rooming house and creating bedrooms in the building’s basement without a permit.
Boston officials said landlords rarely comply with a longtime city rule requiring apartments to be inspected each time a new tenant moves in.
“Far too often, we only find out about problem properties after a tragedy,” said Brian Swett, Boston’s chief of environment and energy. “We need to avert those tragedies earlier.”
Officials with local property owner associations did not return requests for comment Saturday.
But many property owners have objected to the new rules, calling the inspections intrusive and unnecessary. They have also said the annual registration fee for a new city database of rental properties are too expensive. Landlords were required to pay $25 per apartment last year, and $15 per apartment in each subsequent year.
Walsh said Saturday he wants the city to waive those fees for owners who live in smaller apartment buildings. If the change is approved by the City Council, landlords who rent between one and three apartments in buildings in which they live in would be exempt from the annual fee. The fees would also be waived for landlords age 65 and older who live in buildings with between four and six apartments.
“We heard a lot complaints about” the fees, Walsh said. “We said, ‘how can we help local landlords who live in their property?’ ”
If approved, the fee waiver would be retroactive, resulting in refunds for the owners of about 10,000 apartments among the 108,000 currently on the registry.
Despite the proposed concession, Walsh warned that inspectors would not be lenient with landlords who neglect their property.
“I’m assuming there’s going to be a pushback, but if they have good, clean, strong properties in the city of Boston, they won’t have a problem passing the inspection,” Walsh said. “I’m really not concerned about them, to be quite honest with you.”