It's a sure sign that fall is approaching: college students moving back to Boston in droves. 

It was just over three years ago that a fire raged in a building on Linden Street in Allston, killing 22-year-old Boston University senior Binland Lee, who got trapped on the top floor in a unit that didn't have proper exits. Since then, the city has made a number of changes in how they inspect these types of rentals. 

Boston Inspectional Services Commissioner William Christopher (@ISDBoston) and real estate attorney Richard Vetstein (@richardvetstein) joined Adam Reilly to talk about what's being done this year to make sure students in off-campus housing stay safe.

The Office of Neighborhood Services is leading the initiative to make sure off-campus housing is safe. "The weekends of the "Great Move-In" will have between fifty and sixty inspectors out to be on call to answer any questions that come up," says Commissioner William Christopher.

When it comes to ensuring the city's rule against having more than four undergraduates in a single apartment, officials are ramping up inspections to ensure students adhere to the zoning bylaw amendment. The city's universities submit residence lists of all registered off-campus students to inspectional services. Officials focus on units where students from different universities are listing the same address, houses with a high number of police reports, and addresses that receive repeated community complaints. Christopher says, "The overriding concern is the safety of all of these college students." Boston Inspectional Services has documented two citings of apartments where undergraduate students were violating housing ordinance.

Real estate attorney Richard Vetstein argued that they housing ordinances are legally problematic. He sees the distinction between undergraduate and graduate students as problematic, because it assumes that graduate students will be less irresponsible. Vetstein says, "We're not supposed to discriminate against people on the basis of gender or race or any of these type of protected classes. I just think it's a problematic situation when ISD is trying to do that." When it comes to the "four or more" undergraduate housing policy in Boston, Vetstein says, "We have sanitary code, we have the building codes. Let's enforce the laws already on the books."

Under the current zoning bylaw, there is no financial penalty associated with housing over four undergraduates in a unit. "To be clear, students are not a protected class," says Christopher and right now there is no punitive way to fine landlords who allow the bylaw violation. He added, "It's not our objective to pursue fines or violations. We want to solve problems. Student safety is the paramount issue."

Currently, the rental registry program has 115,000 unique addresses listed for inspection and Christopher says the ISD has inspected about 40% of the units. "We want to inspect them over a five year period. It's a revolving cycle because each year there's a new registration that goes into place." Christopher says.

Vetstein adds, "The problem is these landlords who own a lot of units and they're not in compliance... are the real problems." He recommends that undergraduates who are living in substandard conditions seek assistance in reporting violations.