In the wake of a major change by the City Council on Monday night to the apartment inspection ordinance, City Hall leaders and Fire Chief Tony Carli are sounding the alarm concerning the safety of residents.
“It’s been a total success for us since it was implemented,” said Fire Chief Tony Carli on Tuesday. “I can’t understand why they would make it optional. It’s giant step back on this issue.”
The crux of the change altered the 2006 ordinance that required “habitability inspections” of all apartments when a new tenants was scheduled to move in. It’s a measure that is also in place in Revere, Medford, Chelsea and Malden.
But in Everett, it’s no longer in place after the Council voted 6-5 Monday night to make such inspections option – officially replacing the word ‘shall’ with the word ‘may.’
City officials said it was a change made before they had a chance to speak on the matter.
Inspectional Services Director Jim Soper said there are numerous instances that the habitability inspections have saved lives, including at 15 Morris St. where a major fire this summer followed an inspection.
In that home, Soper said they had been inspecting the apartments and it had raised many red flags. One of those was the fact that there were no working smoke detectors. As a result of that inspection, smoke detectors were in place when the fire broke out last summer.
“We found them in violation of a number of things and one was smoke and carbon detectors,” he said. “There was a fire in the building shortly after. We got people out of there due to those smoke detectors. If we hadn’t been in there, we would have eight people dead and maybe more because there were 19 people living there.”
The former process asked landlords to call for the mandatory inspection before a new tenant occupied the unit. They would schedule an inspection and pay a $25 fee, and then the inspection would occur. If there were any violations, those would be fixed and then a certificate of habitability would be issued.
Now, that process is only voluntary, and City officials said they don’t see the protections working as they have for 12 years.
“I don’t see anyone coming up and making the appointment, paying $25 and then having us tell them what to do,” said Soper. They’ll be avoiding that. The tenants in Everett are at risk now because of this.”
Chief Carli said the former ordinance went into place when he was a lieutenant in the Fire Prevention Office. He said the ordinance helped protect them and helped to stop them from having to be in the middle of landlord-tenant disputes.
“We would be called out and have to come out and take a look around,” he said. “We were coming in during the seventh inning and had no idea who had done what. We eliminated all of that with the ordinance and saw a decrease in calls for this. It really gave us a baseline to work off of.”
Soper said it has also given them a tool to root out illegal apartments on routine inspections – making those units legal and safe in the process.
He said they have uncovered about 25 per year in the six years he has been the director
“That’s 150 illegal apartments we’ve exposed with habitability inspections that we will no longer be able to catch,” he said.
City Solicitor Colleen Mejia said it also eliminated a low-cost protection for landlords from problem tenants.
“If they were having issues with tenants and the tenant destroys the apartment, the Landlord has documentation to prove that things were up to code,” she said. “It was a useful tool to help property owners.”