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Lawyer defends landlord under fire on Boston student housing

Denies units pose danger to students; City Council looks into deal with NU

A lawyer for one of the most complained-about landlords of college students in Boston said Tuesday that his client is being unfairly persecuted and denied that the businessman is imperiling young tenants in unsafe housing.

Appearing before a City Council committee investigating the relationship between landlord Anwar N. Faisal and Northeastern University, attorney Joshua Krefetz said that no students have died or been seriously injured in buildings owned by the operator of Alpha Management Corp.

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Krefetz said Councilor Josh Zakim, who requested the hearing following a recent Globe Spotlight Team report that detailed Faisal’s chronic code violations, “should be ashamed of himself’’ for referring to Faisal as a notorious slumlord in the hearing notice. He also assailed the Globe’s report.

Faisal is “not going to be the scapegoat — the symbol — of problems with student housing in Boston because the facts don’t hold up,’’ his lawyer said.

But councilors strongly pushed back, defending the inquiry and saying it was essential for the city to determine whether tenants were at risk.

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“I certainly take issue with any insinuation that this is not something properly before the City Council to investigate and look at,’’ Zakim said.

Councilor Tito Jackson was even blunter.

“You’re not going to come into our body and tongue-lash folks here,’’ he said. “What we’re here to do is look at the safety of young people.’’

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Lawyer Joshua Krefetz represented landlord Anwar N. Faisal.

Over the past decade, Faisal and his companies have been defendants in at least 22 lawsuits and 11 criminal complaints at Boston Housing Court, according to court and city records. In the same period, he has received 469 code enforcement tickets totaling $51,720 for violations outside his buildings, including overloaded Dumpsters, but paid only $3,010 in fines.

He has also been the subject of 16 complaints by tenants filed with the state attorney general’s office since 2008.

Krefetz said last fall that Faisal has more than 2,000 apartments.

During the Spotlight Team investigation, current and former tenants graphically described the dangers and indignities they endured under Faisal’s roofs. Rats scurried into their bedrooms. Bedbugs left red welts on arms and legs. Radiators raised temperatures above 90 degrees or turned cold. Eviction notices sent by mistake.

The council’s housing committee had invited Faisal, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, to appear but Krefetz said his client only learned about it on Saturday. Zakim said he intended to hold a follow-up hearing and would invite Faisal again.

Earlier at the hearing, two officials from Northeastern defended the school’s controversial business relationship with Faisal.

For a decade, the school, which housed only 47 percent of its undergraduates on campus last fall, has paid Faisal millions of dollars to house its students in a dozen buildings he owns just steps from the campus in Fenway.

Currently, more than 300 Northeastern students live in apartments that the school leases from Alpha Management, accounting for more than half of the 600 students living in buildings privately leased by the university, according to NU.

Northeastern pays at least $1 million a year through such leases, Alfred P. Porro Jr., director of real estate development at the school, told the committee.

Meanwhile, other Northeastern students rent apartments directly from Faisal in those same buildings — sometimes after getting referrals from the college’s website — and some have filed complaints with the city and lawsuits at housing court.

Two apartments leased by college students in two Faisal buildings on St. Stephen Street were condemned in 2012 and 2013 after officials from the city Inspectional Services Department deemed them uninhabitable.

John Tobin, a former Boston councilor who now serves as Northeastern’s vice president of city and community affairs, told the committee that Inspectional Services has never cited any of the apartments leased by the school from Faisal for code violations. He said the school inspects the units before students arrive each fall.

“I can assure you that the students who come from around the world to Northeastern University — their safety on and off campus is of our utmost concern,’’ he said.

However, one Northeastern graduate told the panel that he spent four unhappy weeks in a rodent-infested apartment on St. Stephen Street that was owned by Faisal and leased by Northeastern in September 2008.

After a month in the unit, he implored the school to move him across the street to a dorm, and Northeastern accommodated him.

The student, Thomas Jackson, said that on move-in day he and his father found the fire exit in his apartment painted shut and locked with four or five slide bolts. Jackson’s father, a licensed home inspector, complained the next day about that and several other apparent code violations in an e-mail to the college, including unsafe wiring in the basement laundry room.

The younger Jackson said the university never responded to his father’s e-mail.

“What troubles me is that if a licensed home inspector in Massachusetts can voice concerns and gets no response from the university, how are students going to feel when they are voicing their own concerns?’’ Jackson, 25, said.

Tobin said that Jackson’s situation was unfortunate but an anomaly.

Members of the committee said that despite complaints about Faisal’s apartments, they preferred Northeastern to lease apartments from landlords rather than students renting directly from them. Students in units leased by the school are supervised by resident assistants and request repairs through Northeastern.

Given the complaints in Faisal’s properties near Northeastern, however, Zakim recommended that the school reconsider referring students to those buildings when they are seeking rentals.

“Duly noted,’’ Tobin replied. But he said after the hearing that he was making no commitment.

Northeastern has said it is reviewing how Faisal manages his buildings as a result of the Spotlight Team report. The college, in a recent letter to Faisal, threatened to end its business relationship with him and to stop referring other Northeastern students to rent directly from him, if it is unsatisfied with the quality of the housing.

The review is expected to last through the summer and fall.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.
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