Urban Politics #293: Rental Inspections


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata. With assistance from my legislative aid Lisa Herbold.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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Committee Vote Tomorrow

Today, Wednesday, May 26, at 9:30 the City Council Committee on the Built Environment (COBE) heard and voted to approve my proposed legislation to enact a rental housing inspection program to inspect rental housing for conditions that endanger or impair the health and safety of renters.  I expect the Full Council to vote on it and two accompanying resolutions on Tuesday, June 1.

Background

Hundreds of cities in the United States have proactive rental housing inspection programs requiring periodic inspections that don’t rely on a renter complaint.  Renters often fear threats of retaliation when they complain about their housing conditions. Some proactive rental housing inspection programs have been in existence for more than 40 years, while others were created within the past year.  For example in cities like Los Angeles, the Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP) has as its goal, inspecting all 800,000 units in Los Angeles every 5 years.

Today, as in the 80’s, Seattle only has a complaint-based rental housing inspection program.  Only renters or owners of rental housing can ask for a housing code inspection.  As described in Urban Politics 241, after a number of high profile cases in the late 80’s revealed tenants living in deplorable conditions, the Council established a proactive rental housing inspection program. It was subsequently suspended in 1994 due to a legal challenge and as a settlement it, or any similar program, was not to be re-established until after 2006.

2010 Legislative Session

In Urban Politics 287, I wrote about Senate Bill 6459 passing the State Legislature largely thanks to the efforts of interest groups who historically have been on opposite sides of the table.  The Rental Housing Association (RHA) and tenant advocates at Columbia Legal Services and Solid Ground came together to pass a bill that had been on the City of Seattle’s State legislative agenda for the past 11 years.

The bill authorized cities to obtain a warrant to allow a code enforcement official to inspect if there is prior knowledge of a housing code violation.   Prior to the passage of SB 6459, a court could issue a search warrant only if a criminal fire code violation existed.  In SB 6459, the legislature also approved specific parameters for a proactive inspection program.

Implementation

I had intended to request that Department of Planning and Development (DPD) proceed with the next steps of:

1.      Developing procedures for using a warrant as a Housing Code enforcement tool. Agencies would also document conditions of rental properties that could serve as the basis for seeking an inspection warrant in those instances when it was needed; and

2.      Developing a proposed structure and staffing model to implement an inspection program for unsafe housing as permitted by the passage of SB 6459.

In the meantime, DPD proposed legislation to enact an inspection program that went beyond that authorized by the new state law.   SB 6459 only related to inspection programs enacted by cities after the effective date of SB 6459, or after June 20.  The bill DPD proposed would have run counter to the agreement struck by landlord and tenant advocates to broker the passage of SB 6459 – namely:

1.       The DPD proposed bill would have required licensed rental housing to be 100% housing-code violation free.

2.       The DPD proposed bill would have required that 100% of all units be inspected.

I expected that these requirements would have resulted in the opposition to the City ordinance by many of the stakeholders involved in the passage of SB 6459.

Licata Substitute Bill

My bill restores the elements in SB 6459 that tenant and landlord advocates agreed upon. It requires that if the building contains 20 or fewer units, no more than 4 units need be inspected and if the building or complex has more than 20 rental units, no more than 20 percent of the rental units are required to be inspected.  The random sample of units must be chosen by the local government to inspect.  All tenants – even if they did not live in the units selected for inspection – would be given notice of the inspections and told they could report violations.  Further, if any unit failed, the local government could require all units to be inspected.

Inspections for this program are to be limited to the code violations that could endanger or impair the health or safety of a tenant.  The City Housing Code requirements are: the structural members of the unit be of insufficient size and strength to be safe; the tenants are not exposed to the weather; the plumbing and sanitation don’t expose renters to illness or injury; the heat, water, hot water, and ventilation facilities are functioning; and the unit is free from defective, hazardous, or missing electrical wiring, electrical service, or hazardous exits and conditions that increase the risk of fire.

The City complaint-based program can still be used by tenants who wish to have an inspection for other housing code violations. Some of the landlord representatives have asked why commit to implement a housing inspection program now, before testing out DPD’s use of its new administrative warrant authority?  The legislation enacting the housing inspection program will not go into effect until October 1, 2011.  I have an accompanying resolution that directs DPD to develop policies and procedures for the use of the warrant authority and report back to the Council before the enactment of the proactive inspection program to evaluate the effectiveness of the new inspection warrant tool.  There is also an additional resolution that Councilmember Clark has proposed that requests DPD to report back to the Council by July 1, 2011 with recommendations about specific items necessary to implement a rental housing inspection program.

Conclusion

In 1988, the City inspected 350 buildings chosen at random for housing code compliance. The results of those inspections showed 13 percent of rental units had moderately severe to severe Housing Code violations.  The Census Bureau also periodically surveys various housing characteristics. In their last assessment of housing quality in Seattle, based on telephone interviews, the survey showed that 3 percent of rental units in Seattle have severe physical problems and 7.3 percent have moderate physical problems.  It’s hard to say exactly how much rental housing is in poor shape, but I hope that maintaining the compromise struck by tenant and landlord stakeholders in the State Legislative session we can move forward towards improving the quality of Seattle’s rental housing stock and in doing so maintain the supply of affordable rental housing.

Councilmember’s & Mayor’s Email Addresses

Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov
Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov
Sally.Clark@seattle.gov
Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov
Jean.Godden@seattle.gov
Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov
Nick.Licata@seattle.gov
Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov
Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

Keep in touch…

Comments

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Comment from Todoastros
Time June 28, 2010 at 10:39 pm

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The information was really usefull.

Comment from garage door repair
Time July 2, 2010 at 2:32 am

How much a rental house property insurance should cost?

Comment from Porn Blocker
Time July 13, 2010 at 7:33 am

The results of those inspections showed 13 percent of rental units had moderately severe to severe Housing Code violations. The Census Bureau also periodically surveys various housing characteristics.

Comment from Sydney Classifieds
Time July 21, 2010 at 4:38 am

I need to rental house but how much money i want pay and the agreement i want some help me….

Comment from Partnersuche
Time July 28, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I also like to know, how much to pay?

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Comment from Mark Movers, New Jersey
Time August 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I used to live in Seattle and work in the housing industry for a while before moving to New Jersey. What our proposed in this legislation could be useful. Let’s hope things will work out in your favor.

Comment from personal software
Time August 10, 2010 at 8:29 am

Enjoyed reading

the report – most informative thanks

Comment from leather armchair
Time August 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Hmm… The fact that 13% of rental units were judged to be substandard in some way or another, is quite worrying and surely a fact to be improved upon. I visited Seattle in 2008 and while I loved the city, there were parts which such violations were more evident than ever, so this result is unsurprising to me.

Comment from Raw Food Diet
Time August 11, 2010 at 11:36 am

Great message from you!!! Thanks for very informative post!!

Comment from seo company
Time August 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Affordable housing in its sense is cheap housing. As far as I understand random inspections for housing code compliance may improve physical conditions of such units. But it may also raise the rental cost associated with improvements/maintenance, making it “not so affordable”.

Comment from Rich in McCall
Time August 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Another option would be no inspections and let supply and demand regulate prices. If the places with violations will have lower demand then the landlords will collect less money.

Instead of creating more government and government control, what about educating the lower class what to look for. Education of the poor, not more government, is what we need.

Comment from Seitensprung
Time September 24, 2010 at 3:53 am

Thank you for this Article – its very helpful and informative.

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Time December 15, 2010 at 7:12 am

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Comment from Default Passwords
Time January 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

This sure must have a positive impact on the housing sector. Nice read. Thanks.

Comment from OC Home Rental Guy
Time January 23, 2011 at 1:16 am

Did your rental inspection bill also include single family home rental units as well? And if so, what was the percentage of home rental units that had severe code violations? Thanks

Comment from davie
Time January 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

My landlord needs to be inspected, he takes advantage of his tenants. Great post as usual.

Comment from Patrick Kelly
Time March 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Some consideration should be given to those properties with professional management. As a property manager I inspect every unit I manage on an annual basic. At least provide a certification for property managers to properly inspect their own units and report to the city. More inspections are just going to create more upset tenants. And passing on added fees to tenants will just increase rental rates which are already on the raise due to climbing utility costs and real estate taxes. Mid and high range markets will be less effected, but the lower income housing (and households) will be faced with more rental challenges.

Comment from 24 hour loans
Time March 28, 2011 at 6:09 am

It’s great to have all the important legal information comprehensively summed up in a single online page. I only wish there were more so informative resources out there. Thumbs up!

Comment from Sam | Freelance Birmingham Web Designer
Time April 29, 2011 at 11:03 am

“My landlord needs to be inspected, he takes advantage of his tenants. Great post as usual.”

Davie – unfortunately, this is too often the case. When I was a student, I didn’t know of a single friend that EVER got their full rental deposit back, despite often leaving houses in better condition than when they moved on.

It really is an area that needs to be regulated more.

Comment from MBT
Time July 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I do not generally reply to blog posts but I will in this case. Truly a big thumbs up for this one!

Comment from Real Estate For Sale
Time August 20, 2011 at 7:06 am

Rental Inspection is really important in order for us to be safe.

Comment from classifieds
Time February 18, 2012 at 10:14 am

The results of those inspections showed 13 percent of rental units had moderately severe to severe Housing Code violations. The Census Bureau also periodically surveys various housing characteristics.

Comment from how to get rid of a cold sore
Time March 9, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Another option would be no inspections and let supply and demand regulate prices.The Census Bureau also periodically surveys various housing characteristics.

Comment from Marvin bowtrol
Time July 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

What is it such rental inspection ?

Comment from erasexu.pl
Time July 19, 2012 at 3:56 am

When will be this inspection?

Comment from payday loans
Time September 24, 2012 at 6:54 am

Some consideration should be given to those properties with professional management. As a property manager I inspect every unit I manage on an annual basic. At least provide a certification for property managers to properly inspect their own units and report to the city. More inspections are just going to create more upset tenants. And passing on added fees to tenants will just increase rental rates which are already on the raise due to climbing utility costs and real estate taxes. Mid and high range markets will be less effected, but the lower income housing (and households) will be faced with more rental challenges.

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