More than 4 students in a Boston apartment - beware!

Posted by Michael DiMella on Mon, Sep 01, 2008

I was quoted in an article in the Boston Globe on Saturday about the new Boston city regulation that prohibits more than 4 college students to occupy the same apartment.  

Full article here: Students, landlords flouting a city limit

The gist of the regulation is this:

Landlords and college students are widely flouting a new Boston ordinance prohibiting more than four undergraduates from sharing an apartment, amid deep skepticism that city officials can practically enforce the measure.

Residents and college officials are counting on the measure to curb rowdiness in neighborhoods with high concentrations of college students. But as legions of students return to campuses, property owners, students, and real estate agents say, the law is having little success in deterring thousands of students from living together in large numbers in apartment houses neighbors liken to dormitories.

The first problem is that there is very little "official" information about the regulation that I have seen.  No broadcast that it has even been passed, never mind how the city plans to enforce it.  Not many landlords or students even know about it.  And in many cases,the regulation encompasses apartments that were leased prior to the regulation being enacted.  If nobody knows about it, how could it have an impact?

My opinion (from the article):

Michael DiMella, owner of Charlesgate Realty Group in the Back Bay, said realtors are banking on inspectors being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the oversight, and assuming the measure is essentially a sop to neighbors weary of late-night parties.

"Everyone's saying the same thing, 'How can they possibly enforce this?' " he said. "A lot of people are complaining that it's mostly about political expediency."

Actually - The quote was accurate, but the paraphrasing above it was not.  I didn't say Realtors were "banking" (as if trying to cheat the system) on overwhelmed inspectors, only that nobody has been told if, when, how this will be enforced, only that it will be enforced "by complaint".  But - in my opinion - this is typical political expediancy that is done just to say they "tried to help" next time they're looking for votes.  In reality, this regulation is useless.

The way I see it - if a neighbor complains about a roaring party, and inspectors are sent out, how do they know if more than 4 college students are living there.  I assume at that point there will be many more than 4 people at this "party".  How do they know who lives there?  How do do the know if they are college students?  What if there are 5 twenty year old, let's say, electricians living there who don't go to college (which is probably a much smarter move than dropping $200K on college these days anyway, but I digress)?  They don't have a problem under this new regulation, but college students do?  And how do city inspectors tell them apart without some sort of major invasion of privacy?

Believe me, I understand the magnitude of the problem in some neighborhoods.  I went to Boston University, and although I lived on campus the whole time, I heard stories about some of the "BU ghetto" neighborhoods and the problems there were.  I feel badly for those neighbors in the area and I am in favor of finding ways to reduce the problem, but this regulation is NOT it.

What's going to happen? Even if this regulations somehow works as intended, what is the end game?  So now students are prevented from living more densely, but they need some place to live, where do they go?  They spread out into more apartments in the neighborhoods.  Plus the same "big" apartments exist, so why would there be any difference in the amount of partying that goes on in a "big" apartment, whether 4 or 5 students are living there.  It makes no sense and will have no impact.  And unfortunately, some of the less well off students are forced into bigger apartments and share bedrooms (ie. 6 students living in a 4 bedroom apartment) to save some money.  That is now lost.

Just an all around dumb idea.  The city government can and should do better.  Start by working closely with the area colleges to plan a well though out, long term growth plan for on campus housing, then go from there.

I am not holding my breath.

Tags: apartment owners