An Allston fire that claimed the life of 22-year-old Boston University student Binland Lee has triggered a new conversation on the importance of abiding by city landlord/tenant laws and the effectiveness of current enforcement measures.
Fire Caused By Discarded Smoking Material
According to Masslive.com, the Boston Fire Department estimated that the fire began around 6:30 A.M. on Sunday, April 28. Officials determined the cause of the fire to be carelessly disposed of smoking material, which resulted in the fire starting in an interior staircase that constituted the only entry to the second floor and attic. The fire engulfed the three-story house and, in addition to taking Lee’s life, injured six firefighters and nine-residents. Firefighters found Lee in the attic apartment, which they were unable to reach due to flames blocking the only pathway leading upstairs.
19 People Estimated To Be Living In 7-to-9 Bedroom Home, Landlord Cited
Fire Captain Patrick Ellis told the Boston Herald that firefighters were unable to find interior access to the second floor from the front first door. Additionally, inspectional services were unable to find any record of the building having requested a rental reinspection––a required procedure every time a new tenant moves in––since 1992. An estimated nineteen tenants resided in the two-family home at the time of the fire. Boston’s Inspectional Services Department cited the landlord, Anna Belokurova, for overcrowding and renting an illegal basement apartment.
Bill Proposing Criminal Sanctions For Landlords Could Get More Attention
Belokurova could very well face criminal negligence charges, placing this story at the crux of criminal and property law. Currently, Massachusetts’s law sets the bar very high for turning a landlord sanction into a criminal action. However, this tragedy comes at the tail end of a push by certain legislatures to amend the law to more adequately protect tenants. A bill filed in the legislature in late March would subject landlords to up to two and a half years in jail for egregious instances of overcrowding, as per the fire code, and would allow inspectors to seek additional criminal complaints and fines of up to $15,000. In light of recent events, one could expect the bill to garner new attention from those who feel the current system’s sanctions lead to landlords integrating fines into their business models.
Landlords: Be Sure To Keep Up With Requirements
The Allston blaze serves as a reminder for both landlords and tenants to read up on their rights and responsibilities. Landlords should actively research the law to make sure they comply with state requirements. In Boston, particularly, inspections are mandatory with every new tenant (as noted above, the home in question was twenty years behind on inspections). Many resources are available, such as the City of Boston’s FAQ for landlord and tenant requirements and the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s list of requirements from landlords.