New Watertown law aims to control blight on neighborhood streets

Oct 5, 2016

A new law in Watertown will now require landlords to register their rental properties with the city. More than half of the homes in Watertown are rentals. Neighbors and city leaders say many of them are run down or empty. Some aren’t safe to live in. Watertown leaders say a list of property owners’ names and phone numbers will help stop the blight on neighborhood streets. 

In September, Councilman Steve Jennings heard a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, on his proposal to create a registry of all rental properties in Watertown. Jennings originally wanted rentals inspected every three years. Landlords feared that would be too intrusive.

The measure that passed Monday night scrapped mandatory inspections but landlords still have to hand over their contact information to city government. 

Jennings says this is a big step towards improving Watertown’s housing woes.

“I’m really pleased with the result. We moved the needle on this issue in a huge way actually.”

The city will now only inspect rentals at the landlord’s request. Jennings says in Watertown’s soft housing market, inspected properties may have an advantage over those that aren’t.

He says essentially, this new law will give city administrators a direct way to get in touch with property owners -- wherever they happen to live.

“We want to improve neighborhoods and we want good communication with the property owners so that we are working collaboratively to address problems before they get out of control," said Jennings.

Under the law, out-of-town landlords will have to hire a property manager to take care of rentals whether or not they’re occupied. Landlords must start registering their properties with the city on January 1, 2018.  Jennings says the city will not charge a registration fee.