Three triple-deckers are seen in Somerville’s Union Square neighborhood. The Tenement House Act of 1912 was widely seen as an effective way to ban this popular type of working-class housing. Photo by Brady Wahl | CC BY 2.0

What: Tenement House Act Comes into Effect
When: Summer 1912
Where: Suburban Boston 

  • The Tenement House Act, passed in late May 1912, was a landmark in development regulations with a complicated legacy that includes one of the first large-scale efforts to tamp down on the spread of multifamily housing outside Boston. The law was the product of an outcry over increasing numbers of working-class families moving to suburbs like Dedham and Belmont, enabled by expanding transit access. 
  • The local-option law created a range of health and safety requirements for new working-class housing. But it also prohibited kitchens above the second floor and was widely hailed in newspaper reports at the time as an effective way to ban new triple-deckers at a time before modern zoning regulations. 
  • When high-rise multifamily living came back into vogue in the 1960s, the law caused consternation in some communities that had rapidly adopted it 50 years before, like Winthrop and Braintree, but wanted to capture a slice of the growing development trend. 

“There is no longer any question that a general improvement in dwellings of the less expensive classes ought to be provided for by law. It will not answer, either, as a matter of economics or a matter of health, to rely upon the voluntary acts of property owners and builders.”
Charles S. Rackeman speaking to the ninth Massachusetts State Conference of Charities, as reported by the Boston Globe, Oct. 24, 1912 

To celebrate its 150th anniversary, Banker & Tradesman is highlighting significant moments in the history of Massachusetts’ real estate and banking industries. To suggest a topic, email

This Month in History: Boston Suburbs Start to Ban Triple-Deckers

by James Sanna time to read: 1 min