Boston’s ‘Lord of the Sties’ Is Back in the News Again

Anwar Faisal gets some more bad publicity—and this time, it involves Northeastern.

The Globe just published Part 3 of its excellent Shadow Campus Spotlight Team Investigation, covering the student apartment rental situation in Boston. Today’s report focuses on one of the city’s biggest college-area landlords: Anwar Faisal.

Faisal is well-known in the rental community—and in Boston Housing Court, which he’s visited at least 31 times since 2009. He’s been the plaintiff or defendant in lawsuits at least 60 times during the past decade, while 14 tenant complaints have made their way to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Tenants have made a litany of claims about the conditions of his apartments, ranging from leaks and mold on bathroom ceilings, to rodent infestations (including “full-sized” rats, mice, and small rats), and even “an oven that went up in flames immediately.”

One of the most-shocking items to come out of the Globe report isn’t the number of Northeastern University students that rent his apartments in the Fenway, but that Northeastern University itself pays this reputed slumlord to house many of its own students. From the Globe:

 Since 2004, [Faisal] has bought a dozen buildings on St. Stephen Street, Hemenway Street, and Huntington Avenue, just steps from the campus gates. Northeastern currently rents apartments for 600 students from local landlords … and Faisal houses more than half of them.

According to the Globe, Northeastern finds many of Faisal’s apartments uninhabitable and has to pay to have them cleaned up to “Northeastern’s standards,” according to a spokesperson. And, their attention to their students’ homes doesn’t stop there. According to the Globe:

Northeastern treats the apartments it leases from him like dormitories. Resident advisors supervise the students, and any needed repairs are promptly dealt with, according to the undergraduates. If a kitchen drain clogs or a smoke alarm malfunctions, students submit a work order request to Northeastern, and the school sends staff or tells Alpha to fix it.

In effect, it’s Northeastern student housing that the university doesn’t have to bother taking ultimate responsibility for.

Boston magazine profiled Anwar Faisal just this past January. During the reporting, author David Bates was able to interview Faisal, who seemed at times proud, proclaiming that while his building portfolio was worth $500 million today—”I hope that when it is 2015 or 2016, I will reach a billion,” he said at the time—arrogant, and at times defensive.

Bates accompanied Faisal to Housing Court, where he was facing accusations of renting out an apartment “unfit for human habitation” by the city’s inspectors.  The violations included multiple holes in all the interior doors, smoke detectors hanging on wires from the ceiling, and, most egregious, a lack of a second form of egress (a second exit). He was asked, “If there was a fire today, how would they get out?”

Additionally, the court pointed out, Faisal’s building was permitted for 25 units—and this was the 26th. In response, Faisal laughed out loud. “This is a personal issue,” he said. “It’s not the building code or housing code…. They put the tenant in misery and owner in misery for no reason.”

All of this looks bad on Faisal, but Northeastern’s hands aren’t clean, either. Is he the type of landlord the university really wants to be associated with?