Officials have cited the owner of an Allston building where a Boston University student was killed in a fire Sunday.
Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the blaze, which also hurt 15 people. But the discovery that at least 19 people were living in the multifamily home has brought another issue to the forefront: overcrowded housing.
Boston Overcrowding Complaints, 2008 through 02/2013
Fire crews were still on the scene on Linden Street in Allston Tuesday, two days after the fire at this home killed 22-year-old B.U. senior Binland Lee. Six of the 19 living there were B.U. students. Allston resident Adam Moldawer says overcrowding is the norm in the area.
"But that’s just sort of how everything is here," Moldawer said. "Everybody’s just sort of crammed into a – you know – as small of a space as possible."
It’s been five years since Boston passed an ordinance capping the number of undergraduate students living together at four – but the lack of mandatory inspections and absentee landlords makes the law tough to enforce.
"Because, unfortunately, when superintendents they don’t find out about the problem until the kid calls them with a problem saying their toilets are overflowing," said Steve Hawco, a superintendent for a building just around the corner from the fire. "We go up there, we see smoke detectors off, so we gotta put them back up. You know, the biggest problem is kids taking those things down."
Hawco says while landlords and owners should do more, students often try to bend the rules.
"They think, you know, cause it’s their apartment they can move everybody in," he said. "Unfortunately that’s not the case and stuff like that happens. I mean, God bless the young lady, obviously. You don’t wish it upon anybody, but when you see it happen over and over, it doesn’t surprise you."
Just over a year ago, a fire across the street from 87 Linden sent seven students to the hospital and left one with neurological problems.
And according to records from the city’s Inspectional Services Department, two other properties on the same block received overcrowding complaints in the past three years.
"I think a lot of people often get taken advantage of by a lot of the landlords around here because it’s their first experience getting an apartment for themselves," said Lily Smith, a B.U. student who lives across the street, and says students are often stuck between landlords and inspectors.
"And they don’t know what a good price is to pay or — you know —when to call in violations and things like that," Smith said. "And at the same time, you’re also, like, desperate for somewhere to live because the school year is starting and you have to go somewhere."
The city of Boston is adding more teeth to its overcrowding ordinance with a new program requiring owners to register their rental units annually - the process starting tomorrow.