Cambridge renters tell of poor conditions

CAMBRIDGE – City commissioners heard from landlords and tenants April 5, when a discussion during the council’s meeting aired problems regarding substandard housing.

Landlords had heard about a city proposal to inspect properties on a regular basis, and several rose to speak against the idea. Eugene Martinetti said, “As a property investor in Cambridge, I take my role very seriously.”

“We understand among ourselves that there are those in Cambridge who are not living up to our standards,” Mr. Martinetti said. “These we would like to be dealt with. They hurt everybody.”

Referring to possible changes in the city code, he said, “I would like the council to seriously consider it before moving forward.”
James Chaney is another landlord who opposed any changes regarding inspections.

“We do know there is a particular landlord in town who is responsible for this,” he said. He finished his remarks by asking the commissioners to see the landlords’ challenges for themselves.

“Work with us for one week,” he said. “We’re fighting an uphill battle.”

Kristin Bratty lives on Locust Street, where she rents her home. “My concerns are with the landlord a lot of people have had issues with,” she said.

She told council members her home has poor flooring, inadequate heat and plumbing and mold.

“He takes advantage of people he feels are socially beneath him,” Ms. Bratty said. “He has done that to me personally.”

Commissioner La-Shon Foster (Ward 3) said many of the homes the council heard about are in her ward. She has spent much of her time recently meeting with constituents and hearing about their housing issues.

“A lot of the people in the Third Ward are against anyone coming into their houses without their permission or knowledge,” she said. However, Commissioner Foster asked that the inspectors from the Department of Public Works visit the homes in question and ask the residents for permission to check them.

She also spoke about an incident in which a tenant lost her life. A preliminary report from the medical examiner listed the woman’s death as the result of a heart attack, Commissioner Foster said.

But as for what caused her heart to stop, she said, “It is the family’s belief that this victim was electrocuted due to all the faulty wiring in that house.”

“Many times,” the commissioner continued, “they ran out of the house because of sparks.”

She said when a police officer responded to the home and touched the woman’s body, he reported being shocked and required medical treatment. “We do know an officer went to the hospital,” Commissioner Foster said.

She said the city already has laws on the books requiring suitable housing. “We do not need to invent new laws if we’re not operating by the laws we already have,” she said.

Still, in Cambridge – where 60 percent of the homes are rentals – many residents contend with poor-quality housing. “This is the first you hear from me tonight, but I promise you, it will not be the last,” Commissioner Foster said.

City Manager Sandra Trippe-Jones said she has invited landlords to a meeting to discuss the proposed changes to the city code, which have not yet been shared with the public. “They haven’t heard what it is yet,” she said.

Thirteen property owners had so far agreed to attend, she said. She added that any city action would have to apply to all owners.
“We have to be careful not to pick on one person,” Ms. Trippe-Jones said.

For more information on the Cambridge government, visit www.choosecambridge.com

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.