City inspectors who reported finding no violations at 11 buildings owned by the controversial landlord Anwar N. Faisal this month never actually inspected any apartments, their supervisors said Tuesday.
The day after the new commissioner of the Inspectional Services Department, William Christopher Jr., told the Globe that a team of inspectors found no significant problems in Faisal’s buildings on June 6, he and a top aide informed a City Council committee that inspectors only examined lobbies and basements because they couldn’t get into any units.
“We did knock on a few doors and see if anyone would let us in, and there was no one home to let us in,’’ Assistant Commissioner Indira Alvarez told the Housing Committee. “But Faisal did give us access to the basement area and common area, front and back, and at the time of the inspection, the inspectors did not observe any violations in the common space.’’
Christopher said after the hearing that the inspections were still a reliable indication of the condition of buildings owned by Faisal, whom a Globe Spotlight Team series last month identified as one of the most complained-about landlords of college students in Boston.
“If you walk into a building, you can see, usually by the general condition and the quality of what’s going on, if there are major issues,’’ Christopher said. “You cannot see the minor issues that might exist within a unit.’’
But City Councilor Josh Zakim, who is leading the committee’s investigation into a lucrative business relationship Faisal has with Northeastern University to house students, said the inspections couldn’t have been very meaningful if officials didn’t visit units.
“Odds are, they were undergraduates who were gone,’’ Zakim said after the hearing. “Maybe they should try to inspect again in September.’’
The ISD scheduled the inspections in the wake of a Spotlight Team series that found that students across the city often rented apartments that are unsanitary and overcrowded. The series, published in early May, focused in part on Faisal as a major landlord who has been frequently cited for sanitary code violations.
Faisal received a half hour’s notice about which buildings would be inspected, the ISD officials said.
The Spotlight Team series — which relied on dozens of interviews with current and former tenants, repeated visits to Faisal’s buildings, a survey of students living in 40 apartments in six of his buildings, and an examination of hundreds of court and city records — found that many of his buildings look attractive from the outside. But apartments are often poorly maintained, and some are overrun with all manner of vermin.
Faisal has about 2,000 apartments, his lawyer said last fall, and is one of the biggest landlords to students and young people in greater Boston. Northeastern has paid him millions over the past decade to house students in a dozen buildings he owns near the school’s campus in Fenway — buildings where other students, many also from Northeastern, rent directly from him and complain about bedbugs, rodents, poor heating, and other problems.
Shortly before the committee held its first hearing May 27, the landlord wrote the panel that he was “entitled to due process’’ and that he had received too little notice to appear. He asked the committee to schedule another hearing for Tuesday. But Faisal backed out of his offer to attend the second hearing, prompting Zakim to repeatedly criticize him.
“I’m certainly disappointed that Mr. Faisal, and not even his attorneys, have seen fit to be here again today after we . . . scheduled this hearing around their apparently very busy schedule,’’ Zakim said.
At the first hearing, Faisal’s lawyer, Joshua Krefetz, defended the landlord and said Faisal had been wrongly accused of providing unsafe rental housing to college students.
Although Zakim on Monday threatened to invoke the council’s rarely used subpoena power to compel Faisal to appear before the committee, the councilor said at the hearing that instead, he intended to invite him again.
Over the past decade, Faisal and his real estate company have been defendants in at least 22 lawsuits and 11 criminal complaints in Boston Housing Court, according to the 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.
Two apartments leased by college students in two Faisal buildings on St. Stephen Street were condemned in 2012 and 2013 after officials from Inspectional Services deemed them uninhabitable.
The owner of Alpha Management Corp., Faisal has also been the subject of 16 complaints by tenants filed with the state attorney general’s office since 2008.
Asked by the committee to assess the landlord, Alvarez said Faisal is “not the worst I’ve seen in the 12 years I’ve been at Inspectional Services, but he could do better in terms of responding to his occupants and responding to the violations and addressing issues prior to anyone calling the department.’’