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Renters’ Rights: What Students Need to Know

Boston mayor brings housing issues to light

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On September 1, move-in day for the area’s college students, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino walked along streets in Allston and Brighton with city officials distributing informational brochures, inspecting houses, removing garbage, and ticketing illegally parked vehicles. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino emerged from a basement bulkhead along Allston’s Pratt Street on Wednesday, where he and officials from the city’s Inspectional Services Department had spied mice droppings and viewed a toilet hanging by its last screw thread. Although against code, the basement had been rented to college students, who were moving in that day.

The mayor strongly criticized landlords for continually renting shabby, substandard housing to college students.

Standing in the building’s backyard beside a mound of trash, Menino (Hon.’01) said, “Either these folks don’t understand English, or they’re just greedy.”

This week marks the 11th anniversary of the mayor’s Student Turnover Campaign, designed to address move-in day problems and alleviate stress on local neighborhoods. The mayor and representatives from several city agencies walked along Allston and Brighton streets to distribute informational brochures, conduct housing inspections, remove garbage, and ticket illegally parked vehicles.

Area universities and colleges should be more proactive, Menino said, in educating their students about renters’ rights. Outside the house on Pratt Street, he urged schools to build more on-campus housing for students and to keep closer tabs on those who live off campus.

Across Allston and Brighton, he said, “students are being used by the owners of the property.”

BU’s Off-Campus Services does, in fact, provide information to students about their rights, using information from the city’s top 10 list of things tenants need to know before signing a lease. The University also opened StuVi2 last fall, providing campus housing for an additional 950-plus students.

As well as the University’s efforts, BU’s Student Union plans to become a resource on students’ rights and responsibilities as renters. “We don’t want students to be taken advantage of,” said Daniel Ellis (CAS’11), executive vice president of the Student Union. And at the same time, “we want to let students know about how they should behave in the community.”

Educating students about their rental rights has not been the Student Union’s strong point in the past, Ellis acknowledged. He hopes this year will mark a sea change. “We want to let students know we have the information they need,” he said.

James Boggie (CAS’12), the Student Union director of city affairs, said students have approached him for more information about their rental rights. He plans to compile that information and post it online within the next month.

Back in Allston on Wednesday, Dion Irish, assistant housing commissioner in the Inspectional Services Department, was one of 40 inspectors making the rounds of rental property. He estimated that fewer than 20 neighborhood houses were as badly maintained as the one the mayor had just inspected.

Up and down the street, trash collected on sidewalks, buildings were in need of paint, and porches sagged under the weight of generations of students, many of them from BU. “I guarantee that if regular, year-round residents lived here, we would’ve gotten calls by now,” Irish said, suggesting that students may put up with conditions that other tenants wouldn’t tolerate.

City officials chose September 1—notorious for its ubiquitous moving vans and standstill traffic—as the day to launch their campaign because parents typically help students move into their new off-campus homes on that date.

“This is the best day to get access for inspections,” Irish said, as parents are more willing than students to allow city officials into apartments for inspection.

Both city officials and student government representatives agree that student renters need to know their rights, but also need to abide by the terms of their leases and respect the property they’re renting.

For more information about landlords’ and tenants’ rights and responsibilities, check out Boston’s Rental Housing Resource Center, or call 617-635-RENT (7368). The city also has a 24-hour hotline (617-635-4500) for questions or to report a rental housing issue.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

1 Comments

One Comment on Renters’ Rights: What Students Need to Know

  • Kaitlyn on 09.03.2010 at 11:36 am

    It isn’t enough for BU to simply build more housing, but rather BU needs to make housing more affordable for students. The reason students are required to move off campus into substandard housing is because the cost of living in an on campus apartment is prohibitive.

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