Boston Is Cracking Down on Overcrowded Student Housing

No more than four, seriously.
Tinned sardines

Photo via iStock.com/ALEAIMAGE

Attention, BU students packed like sardines into triple-deckers in Mission Hill. Yeah, you. The city may finally be dropping the hammer on your landlord.

So say officials who believe that they’ve put enough teeth in an eight-year-old ordinance limiting apartment occupancy to no more than four unrelated people, and they’re ready to bite.

“We’ve found a way to make this punitive, and we think this will take it to another level,” William Christopher, commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, tells the Boston Globe.

The city’s population of college students has a habit of cutting down on the cost of rent off-campus by sharing the burden with lots more than four. As the Globe’s Spotlight series Shadow Campus explored two years ago, the rule is flouted in Boston’s student havens about as often as the law on the minimum drinking age or the mores of common decency on the T.

Cramming that many people into one living space can be unsafe, can lead to tragedy in a fire, and can make unlawful tenants more vulnerable to neglect at the hands of disreputable landlords. It can also drive up housing costs for families living nearby—rent that would be unaffordable to four college-age roommates is easier to pay when split six, seven, or 14 ways.

After a slow start (the ordinance still hadn’t led to a single citation in eight years, per the Spotlight Team in 2014), officials tell the Globe this week that change is coming, and that more landlords could end up getting written up for violations. This after new rules approved by Mayor Marty Walsh and the city council this year forcing both landlords and colleges to divulge students’ addresses so inspectors can track overcrowding. And more rules could be heading to the councilors’ chamber for consideration this summer, says Christopher.

Sounds like students and landlords may have more than just bed bugs and low-hanging overpasses to worry about this school year.


Spencer Buell Staff Writer at Boston Magazine sbuell@bostonmagazine.com