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For Boston's Move-In Week, Inspectors Seek To Ensure Student Housing Is 'Safe, Clean, Inhabitable'

Noah Druckenbrod moves out of his Allston apartment on Wednesday, Aug. 31. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
Noah Druckenbrod moves out of his Allston apartment on Wednesday, Aug. 31. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

It's move-in week in Boston, with the majority of the city's rental leases beginning Sept. 1.

And during what is at best a mildly stressful week for most Bostonians — especially students and their parents -- some headaches never seem to change. There will be detours, double-parking and patience-testing traffic; free stuff few people want piled high on the curb; and the near certainty of someone getting their moving truck stuck on Storrow Drive. (Wait, it already happened.)

When you finally make it through the city's congested streets alive, reassurance you're moving into a safe place is helpful.

What Is Legally Required Of Boston Housing 

About 60 inspectors will take part in the Boston Inspectional Services Department's annual walk about the city this weekend, ISD Commissioner Buddy Christopher said in an interview. That's up from roughly 50 inspectors last year.

The inspectors head out in teams to chat with residents, students and parents about their rights, while ensuring the places they are moving into are up to code. There are a number of mandates landlords must follow to be in accordance with state sanitary codes and fire codes.

"Our major focus right now is to make sure the units are safe, clean, inhabitable," he said.

A smaller number of inspectors have been assisting residents moving this week, too. Over the weekend, they will focus mostly on neighborhoods thick with student housing, like Allston/Brighton, Fenway and Mission Hill, as well some pockets where students have spread to, like in Dorchester, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

Move-out day garbage on the streets of Allston on Wednesday, Aug. 31. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
Move-out day garbage on the streets of Allston on Wednesday, Aug. 31. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

"We want to make sure students understand that smoke detectors and heat detectors are required — it's not optional. And they've gotta be functional," Christopher said. "There's gotta be two means of egress from the unit, that's a mandatory. If there's the appearance of rodents or any kind of bugs, we want to be aware of that, so that we can help them mitigate that situation. The stove has to work. The heating has to work. Plumbing has to work."

Last year around Sept. 1, Inspectional Services workers stopped at more than 2,000 units in the city and issued written notices for a total of 447 housing, building or environmental violations. The majority of them (308) were housing violations, which include smoking and carbon monoxide detector violations, as well as general safety, sanitary and non-emergency violations.

A total of 46 violations were written for units that had rats (28 violations), bats (1) or other pest issues (18). Twenty-five notices were issued for structures that were deemed unsafe by the inspectors, as well as 14 for general building maintenance issues and two for right of entry problems.

In years past, Christopher said, students were concerned if inspectors found issues with their new homes, they would be forced to move.

"We have never had a student move out of their house if it was a habitable situation," he said, explaining that two years ago there was one home inspectors did not think was safe for students to move into. "[In that case,] we worked with the university and the landlord to get them alternative housing while they repaired the property."

The city's inspectors do, however, look to see whether too many undergraduates — or too many people in general — are attempting to inhabit a unit. A Boston zoning rule passed in 2008 prohibits more than four undergraduate students from living in an apartment together. Apartments must have at least 150 square feet for the first tenant, as well as 100 square feet for each additional tenant.

Residents with apartments inspectors don't make it to are encouraged to report issues using the city's Bos:311 service.

Merry Allston Christmas

A heat map that depicts where moving truck permits have been issued. (Courtesy City of Boston)
A heat map that depicts where moving truck permits have been issued. (Courtesy City of Boston)

Christopher said he's optimistic this year's major moving weekend won't be as crowded as years' past, crediting colleges in Boston for staggering move-in dates over a two-week period.

"Three years ago, this was an event that took place over three days," he explained. "And you would have approximately 16,000 students moving into the city at a very concise time."

Additional ISD employees will also be stationed at the Hess gas station at 100 Brighton Ave. in Brighton on Sept. 1 to answer questions.

But remember, it's not just students who are moving in the city. About 70 percent of leases begin in Boston on Sept. 1, according to a statement from the city of Boston.

With so many people moving, it's a very generous time of year in Boston. If you're on the hunt for free stuff, try Craigslist or walking the mean streets of Allston (obviously), or you can also take a look at the site Boston Curb Alert, too.

And if you're moving and want to get rid of your stuff, but no one seems to think your trash is their treasure, the city also has a Trash Day app you may find useful.

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Lisa Creamer Twitter Digital News Editor and Producer
Lisa Creamer is a digital editor and producer at WBUR.

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