What Landlords Need to Know about Rental Registration

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Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 5:30 am  //  Guest writer

A Robust Inspection of This Burned Rental Would Have Saved This Landlord Time and Money

Theo Bickel guest writes this article.  He is a recent Political Science graduate from WWU.

When discussing rental code enforcement, you may think it's a dispute between tenants and landlords, or a new draconian tax targeting landlords. This is not true. Washington law has already established a landlord’s legal responsibilities and the minimum health and safety standards of rental properties. The city of Bellingham is discussing the proactive enforcement of existing laws. Most landlords in this town abide by the laws and work hard to keep their properties in the best condition they can. However, in a town with 13,000 rental properties and around 40,000 tenants, many rental properties contain serious safety code violations and put the lives of tenants, neighbors, and our entire community at risk.

Since rental properties are an essential part of our community, their safety is the city's top priority. The city  is discussing proactive code enforcement by requiring rental properties to be registered with the city after a “self-declaration of compliance with a published checklist of minimum standards.” This lays out a checklist of standards that all properties must comply with to make sure there are no unsafe conditions “that endanger or impair or could endanger or impair the health or safety of a tenant.” If a rental property is found to be in violation of these conditions the city will require the landlord bring the property back up to safe standards with a “certificate of inspection” confirming repairs have been done. This program would be funded by a baseline fee to all landlords – similar to a business license. The city would apply fines and civil infractions for violations of health and safety laws to keep housing up to safe levels.

Rental registration would be a city service providing new resources and benefits to landlords. Here are the advantages to landlords in Rental Registration and Code Enforcement.

1. Levels the Playing Field –Currently, landlords who maintain their properties to safety standards compete against those who do not maintain their properties, allowing them to decay to unsafe levels. The registration system is structured to have a minimal impact on landlords who pass inspections and do not have a history of code violations. Fines escalate on landlords who have repeated safety violations in their rental properties. Therefore, this program will lead to a more fair market..

2. Creates Certainty in Rental Market – Registering all rental properties and bringing unsafe housing up to code will lead to greater market confidence, sustainable business practices and greater future investment in the rental market.

3. Enhances Communication between the City and Landlords – Understanding one’s rights and responsibilities may be difficult for new landlords. This program will make city resources and support more accessible. Some examples are:

 - Listing of landlord rights and responsibilities,
 - Standards for rental property health and safety,
 - Identification of unsafe conditions,
 - Assistance of licensed inspectors with professional knowledge about health and safety standards in buildings,
 - Coordinated access to community development non-profits and HUD programs to help low-income landlords in need of assistance.

4. Creates Advertising – A complete on-line list of rental properties with valid registration will be available to tenants. Not only will this site be easy to navigate, but it will also provide advertising to interested customers. After registered properties are certified, the non-registered properties will be avoided by tenants.

5. Improves Safety – Greater maintenance in rental properties will decrease rental fires and create safer communities that benefit everyone in Bellingham. Through registration, the city will be able to contact landlords during emergencies.

6. Increases Property Values – Rental housing will be improved by the enforcement of rental property health and safety standards. Neighborhoods with substandard housing will see new investments and a significant reduction in blight, leading to healthier and more valuable communities.

The Rental Registration program being discussed in the city of Bellingham is based upon data from successful implementation of proactive code enforcement policies in cities across America. These advantages are real, and they are tangible. Landlords, tenants, and all citizens in the city of Bellingham will benefit from the registration of rental properties and the proactive enforcement of health and safety standards. When the worst players of the rental market take advantage of their tenants, ignore their responsibilities, and put people in danger, this impacts community members and landlords who fulfill their duties. Not only is this unfair but it makes it harder to run an honest business. By having a universal registration system and a baseline of safety standards, this program can help bring landlords and city staff together to improve housing in Bellingham.

Support Rental Registration in Bellingham. Write to the mayor (klinville@cob.org) and to the city council (ccmail@cob.org)

Links to source material:

City of Bellingham 2013 – 2017 Consolidated Plan. Community Development].  2012

Bellingham City Council Agenda Bill 20382:  A briefing on a draft ordinance to establish a rental registratiklinville@cob.orgon program. Planning Committee. [4/23/2014].

A Guide to Proactive Rental Inspection Programs. Change Lab Solutions, 2014

An Analysis of Rental Property Registration in Austin [Texas]. Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic. July 2013.

Using Housing Code Enforcement to Improve Healthy Homes. North Carolina Medical Journal, 2012.
.

 

Barbara Perry  //  Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 7:46 pm

Thank you for your work on this Theo.  Bellingham has been needing this for a long time.  Good Luck


Delaine Clizbe  //  Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 8:23 pm

It is absolutely amazing that I have been a landlord for 16 years and did not have any of these services.  How on earth did I survive?  Theo makes it sound like landlords asked for this.  We did not.

My response to each suggestion:
1) LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD:  My well maintained rental units do not need any leveling.  The fact that someone else wants to own less than standard units does not decrease the value of my units but increases them.  Believe me someone else’s un-maintained rental unit is no competition for me.

2) CREATES CERTAINTY IN THE RENTAL MARKET.  Certainty for who? With a less than 1% vacancy rate I can tell you the market for rentals is pretty certain. Perhaps Theo should be asking the City why we have such a low supply of housing in our community.

3) ENHANCE COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LANDLORD AND CITY .  I understand my rights.  I am perfectly capable of goggling “Washington State Landlord Tenant Law” and reading the whole entire thing. I did not ask the City for help in this area.  I already have standards: I would live in any of my units.

4) CREATES ADVERTISING.  With a less than 1% vacancy rate no landlord needs to advertise. I certainly have not asked the City for help advertising.

5) IMPROVES SAFETY.  So much wrong with this statement.  I do not need to have the City contact me when there is an emergency at one of my units.  My tenants will contact me.  Tenants have the ability now to contact the City and ask for code enforcement if their unit is unsafe.  This registration program does nothing to insure safe units. 

6) INCREASES IN PROPERTY VALUES:  If what Theo states is true rents will also increase and first time homeowners will be less likely to be able to afford a home.  Double edged sword.

I find it pretty condescending for Theo to try to “school” me on what my business needs after 16 years of successfully running a rental business that offers a well maintained product and is very tenant centered.  Some of us in the community don’t believe we need Government to solve every little problem   It is time for WWU students to step up and take responsibility for their rental choices.  Don’t like living in a run down unit?  Don’t rent it in the first place and by all means move if it becomes run down. 

This proposed ordinance is nothing more than a money grab by the City and a chance to increase Government by adding an additional job description to their duties.  The fact that it has been debated for years shows that it does not offer the citizens of Bellingham anything other than a bill in the mail.


Dick Conoboy  //  Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 8:37 am

Hi Delaine!

Your comments are always so welcome as they tend to prove the very points made in the article.  As the lead-in to the article states, “Landlords are so caught up opposing a licensing and inspection ordinance, they cannot see the upside for them in ridding the city of bad rentals.”

Thanks,

Dick


Theo Bickel  //  Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 11:39 pm

Hi Barbara, thank you very much for your support.

Hi Delaine, thank you for responding to my article. There is a lot we can discuss but I would like to emphasize one point:  WA law requires all landlords to maintain their rental properties to meet a minimum health and safety standard. Like workplace safety or restaurant safety, rental safety is a public health concern and our public officials have a duty to protect Bellingham citizens.

I commend you for being a responsible and attentive landlord, but your experience simply does not speak for the thousands of landlords in this town. Our complaint-based code enforcement system and self-regulation have resulted in deteriorating and unsafe rental properties that threaten tenants and jeopardize our entire community.

Landlords, tenants, and all citizens in the city of Bellingham will benefit from the registration of rental properties which will proactively enforce health and safety standards. With your business practices, this program can help you continue to responsibly manage properties for at least another 16 years.


Delaine Clizbe  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 10:24 am

Dick,
Stop trying to help me.  I did not ask for your help nor do I want or or need your help.  Thanks!


Delaine Clizbe  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 10:34 am

Theo,
This letter to the editor perfectly explains why the registration program will not help.  The neighbors and the City know who this landlord is, complaints have been filed and the City has done nothing.  Adding a registration fee to the mix will not make anything better…..but the City will get richer.

+ Link

Just because you keep repeating the same lines over and over again does not and will not ever make them the truth. I see your a political science guy so I’m sure you’ve been taught how to manipulate arguments….like with that lovely picture you posted at the top of the page.  Why not post a picture of the house on Samish Way that burned because a tenant left a candle burning.  Or how about the recent one where someone was smoking in bed.  Or better yet the guy in Seattle who used a can of paint as a flame thrower to kill a spider.  But you won’t post those or talk about those because you, and Dick want to paint a certain picture.  You want to manipulate your audience.  Play on their fears.  Repaint the picture. 

Some of us are smarter than that….. 

If you don’t like your living conditions…..move!  I’d offer you a place but I don’t have a vacancy and truthfully I haven’t had a college student in years.  They apparently don’t like my rates….or maybe it’s my rules.


Theo Bickel  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 12:44 pm

Delaine,

Thanks for sharing that LTE from Mr and Mrs. Shaughnessy. I agree with them that inspections of rental properties by professional building inspectors is important to protect the health, safety, and preservation of our neighborhoods.

In my years studying Political Science, I have been called a lot worse. But rather then pointing fingers, all I will say on the matter is that I am concerned about the health and safety of our community. If there was an endemic problem of tenant candle infernos then I might have to write a different article.

Your lackluster idea of tenants simply ‘moving’ out of unsafe housing utterly ignores WA law. Tenants do not shoulder the burden of ensuring landlords maintain their properties at legal safety standards. Unsafe rental properties would continue to exist in our neighborhoods, and because of the low vacancy you mentioned, continue to be rented out to new tenants. Unless the city of Bellingham starts being proactive in enforcing existing health and safety standards, our neighborhoods will be unsafe.

But as I said in the article, the proactive enforcement of existing laws benefits landlords such as yourself. Nobody wins when unsafe rental properties are in our neighborhoods.


Dick Conoboy  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 2:24 pm

Delaine,

My objective in being an advocate for rental inspections is not to help you but to ensure the health and safety of tenants in this city. I hate to disappoint you but none of this is about YOU.  If any of this helps you, then that is quite incidental to my purpose and purely an unintended consequence.


Barbara Perry  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 6:42 pm

Delaine,  Your comments show how too many of the wealthy of this world do not understand that all people should have protections, even renters.  Thankfully you say you are not abusive but I know of many stories of other landladies who are. 

There certainly were some landlords when I went to school years ago who were careless and were thieves.  I won a lawsuit against one landlord, who did not pay me and did not change his ways. I would have had to go to court again and I did not feel like spending my time on doing so. That is what he counted on.  More lately, I have heard stories of women landlords who have been abusive. Why don’t we just be civil and have civil protections?

You are not the only one who cares about money.


Delaine Clizbe  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 8:59 pm

Barbara,
I am sorry you have had issues with previous landlords.  I would like to point out however, that you did have recourse against them but apparently did not choose to take that action. 

I myself had to take the builder who build my first rental to court.  That is not something I would ever like to go through again but I put on my big girl pants and took him on in court… and won.  So these kind of things happen even to property owners.

You can not force someone to be civil.  Sorry but you can’t.  There are laws in place now that require us to be civil and people still break those laws.  Having a landlord register is not going to make them be civil.  I don’t know when proponents of this proposal will start to understand this. 

Furthermore, Barbara while the City may be able to handle code complaints I really don’t think they have any mechanism for settling monetary disputes between tenants and landlords.  You will still need to take your landlord to court, usually via small claims.  I encourage you to use that route that is already in place for you.


Tip Johnson  //  Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 12:16 am

The proposed regulations create unnecessary levels of bureaucracy and are classist in origin.  Some folks don’t like more than three people unrelated by blood or marriage living in the same home.  They want to legislate a definition of family. 

Building codes and the Landlord-Tenant Act already provide a means for any tenant to insure they live in safe conditions.  Any tenant that has an issue they care about can get it fixed.  Some argue that folks don’t know any better and need supervision.  Folks might know enough to keep the rent low, if that’s what’s important.  Taking the poor’s interests into public account may not be in their own best interests. How will increased
regulation keep prices low?

The market is not completely efficient, but it does organize some relations as best as can be hoped.  Adding the costs of an extra level of duplicative bureaucracy and cultivating a sneak-and-peek culture of residential surveillance is not in anyone’s best interest in this period of increased domestic spying and militarization.

Just more data for Intrado.


Delaine Clizbe  //  Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 7:09 am

Theo,
You write ” If there was an endemic problem of tenant candle infernos then I might have to write a different article.”  This statement is more than a little concerning.  First, it appears that you have taken it upon yourself to be the spokesman for all WWU students. For you to gloss over a very real safety concern is a disservice to your fellow students.  Second, your flippant response is a bit disrespectful to the lady tenant who died in that Samish Way fire and to the teenager who died last year in a house fire that was started by a candle.

More importantly however, your response is indicative of a culture of an “external locus of control”.  I’m sure you learned about this in psychology and sociology.  This means that rather than relying on your inner strength and knowledge to control your behavior you
(general term here not you specifically) rely on others to make decisions and control you.  In life, there will be many incidences where you and only you will have to make important decisions.  I would suggest you and your fellow students work on becoming citizens who have an internal locus of control.  These people frequently use something called “common sense” when making decisions.  “common sense” would tell you that an unattended burning candle is not safe. 

At a meeting at WWU last year, I suggested to the students present that the Associated Students set up a program to educate fellow students in Landlord Tenant Law and in what to look for as far as “safe” or “unsafe” in rental units.  Most of you will move to other towns and without these skills you will, I can guarantee, face these problems again.

Finally, back to the picture you used to illustrate this article.  I believe that fire was electrical in origin.  That works great for your argument that if the owner had inspected it would have been prevented.  Having purchased several homes over the years I can tell you that even an inspector that I have personally paid to inspect the house I am buying would not be likely to spot an electrical hazard like this example.  Why?  To do so you would have to remove all the sheetrock, all the insulation in the ceiling ect ect to inspect every wire that may possibly have been chewed on by a rat.  That is not what happens.  The inspector will come in, look at the electrical box, test each outlet, turn on each light, that’s it!  That’s what you get for $400!  Buyers are required by banks to have these inspections but they in now way insure the house is “safe” or that you will not have a problem two days after buying it.  In fact, I’m not sure there is an inspector out there that will sign his name to certifying that a residence is “safe”.  That is why in the proposed City ordinance the City is not warrantying the certification process.  They can’t!  They’d get their butts sued and the tax payers would be screaming.

Ok one more finally!:)  You don’t like that I suggested a tenant move.  What I will agree with you on is that the Landlord Tenant Act is cumbersome and time consuming and you have to follow the appropriate steps.  It is the same for a landlord.  Those steps in fact may take longer than the year lease you likely signed.  That is why I say move.  At the end of the lease don’t resign.  As a landlord I have used this method several times.  I just don’t resign leases with tenants where there have been issue.  Harsh but simple.  Once again those darn landlord rules, like paying the rent, not damaging property ect ect really suck!


Dick Conoboy  //  Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 8:47 am

Tip,

I have followed your writing and comments on this site for years now and have found your insights and command of the facts spot on.  In this case, what you have written is, unfortunately, a discombobulated bit of claptrap that inserts irrelevant material and distorts other issues.

First of all, there is absolutely no reference in any of the proposed ordinances or general debate on rental health and safety that even remotely mentions the so-called “rule of three”.  You have most certainly read my previous comments on this subject in which I have stated that the “rule of three” is a zoning issue and not a health and safety issue.  If you want to argue about zoning, then I will be happy to do that in the another setting but, please Tip, no red herrings.

As for creating a bureaucracy, I hardly think two or three additional employees, whose salaries will be paid by a risibly small landlord fee, will cause city hall to topple over from its own weight.

The Washington Landlord-Tenant act is an empty shell which only gives tenants the opportunity to spend money on attorneys to obtain justice.  Have you not listened to the student tenants speak of being taken advantage of by landlords?  Have you not read the surveys they conducted?  Have you not paid any attention to the thousands of signatures they gathered on a petition to get the city council to act on rental health and safety.

Nor is anyone here speaking of housing affordability.  Another red herring. We are speaking of rental housing safety.  Perhaps you are among those who would rather see tenants live in a shit hole just as long as it is cheap.  Landlords have been taking advantage of the tight rental market for years by raising rents so much that a single family can hardly afford to rent a home in this city.  Yet these landlords scream like stuck pigs when they tell council that they will have to pass these additional costs of making their rentals safe on to the poor abused tenant.  Boo.  Hoo.

Yes, Tip, the market is not completely efficient but I do not operate on “hope”, a false notion that absolves those who take no action.  The market is not only not efficient, it devours the consumer and corrupts itself. Thank your local government’s bureaucratic health department next time you eat a meal out.  Those bureaucrats make sure that kitchen is clean.  Or do you just want the diners to “hope” it is a sanitary operation controlled by market forces?

Last is your red herring arguments about government surveillance. Rental inspections are about conditions in the rental units not about the lives of the tenants.  Landlords have raised this Libertarian/Tea Party bugaboo at council meetings but it just does not hold water.  Inspection of rentals “duplicates” nothing.  Whatever are you talking about?

My “hope” is that you wrote all of your comment tongue-in-cheek.  Six fires in rentals over the last few years almost killed several people and seriously injured more.  Dozens of tenants were put out on the street. They did not even know they were living in a defective rental. The defects could have been spotted had we been conducting inspections. So much for the Landlord-Tenant law.

 


Tip Johnson  //  Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 12:27 pm

Dick, don’t hold back, let me know how you really feel! Not tongue in cheek.  I just disagree.

How many fires occurred in structures that were not rentals? Were all the rental fires caused by building defects, as compared to cigarettes, candles, woodstoves or crappy lampwire extension cords?

It’s convenient for you to abstract the zoning issue from the safety issues, but I sense they remain closely related in your neighborhood paradigm.

What is duplicated is building services and the landlord tenant act. If those are not working, then let’s fix them instead of adding another layer.  A complaint-based system is least intrusive and least wasteful of resources. That is best.  If complaints fall on deaf ears, lets get them some hearing aids.

Who wants a bunch of bureaucrats snooping around?


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Thu, May 14, 2009, 7:28 pm  //  g.h.kirsch

Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, asks, “What do you suppose it is like to be elected president of the United States only to find…

4 comments; last on May 16, 2009

Preserving Farmland

Sun, Apr 05, 2009, 9:59 pm  //  Craig Mayberry

This week a study suggested that one of the most important issues in Whatcom County is the preservation of farmland. The Whatcom County Council has talked for years…

1 comments; last on Apr 28, 2009

Moron Money

Sun, Mar 15, 2009, 6:25 pm  //  g.h.kirsch

"I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers…

6 comments; last on Mar 17, 2009

Infill, Sinfill & Sprawl

Thu, Feb 12, 2009, 8:36 pm  //  Larry Horowitz

Have you ever wondered how truly livable cities become undesirable hell holes? Do the people who run these highly attractive areas into the ground merely fail to comprehend…

2 comments; last on Feb 16, 2009

Top ten list for the next buyer of Chuckanut Ridge / Fairhaven Highlands

Sat, Feb 07, 2009, 11:17 am  //  Larry Horowitz

If you happen to find yourself in the market for an 82-acre hilly swamp wholly encumbered by critical areas like steep slopes and mature-forested Category 1 wetlands in…

0 comments

How Horizon Bank chose greed over the safety of its community

Tue, Feb 03, 2009, 1:05 am  //  Larry Horowitz

I really pity Horizon Bank’s CEO Rich Jacobson. His predecessor, Laury Evans, sure left him a bad hand to play. Not only is Mr. Jacobson faced with the…

2 comments; last on Mar 02, 2009

Fairhaven Shipyard to gain larger drydock

Fri, Jan 02, 2009, 7:23 pm  //  John Servais

Coming to our Fairhaven waterfront - this magnificent floating drydock. The above aerial photo is of the Fairhaven Shipyard with the new drydock placed as a computer image…

1 comments; last on Jan 03, 2009

Where Do You Draw the Line

Fri, Dec 12, 2008, 12:46 am  //  Craig Mayberry

Another day another bailout by our government. After facing fierce opposition from regular people, our federal government decided to bail out banks, now the latest effort is to…

7 comments; last on Dec 14, 2008

Population Projections: Victims of the past or Masters of our own destiny

Fri, Oct 17, 2008, 1:20 pm  //  Larry Horowitz

When it comes to planning for the future of our county and cities, must we be victims of the past or can we become masters of our own…

1 comments; last on Oct 18, 2008

What’s in a name?

Thu, Sep 11, 2008, 12:18 pm  //  Larry Horowitz

People everywhere like to use labels to compartmentalize things - as well as other people. In the context of our local growth debate, we hear terms like Pro-Growth

25 comments; last on Sep 18, 2008

Uncharted Future

Fri, Jul 04, 2008, 2:21 am  //  Myron Wlaznak

Over the past few years, I’ve written in other venues about profound impacts we can expect to our daily lives from fundamental changes in a rapidly evolving world.…

2 comments; last on Jul 23, 2008

Magnetism & the search for unlimited energy

Sat, Jun 28, 2008, 9:11 am  //  Larry Horowitz

On March 26, 2002, the US Patent Office issued Patent No. 6,362,718 B1, potentially altering the entire paradigm in our quest for the holy grail of unlimited clean…

11 comments; last on Jul 23, 2008

The Joke is on Us

Fri, Apr 04, 2008, 11:07 pm  //  Craig Mayberry

Ironically, on April Fools Day Congress held hearings with the oil and gas industry over profits and government subsidies. The reported bantering between politicians and oil executives missed…

8 comments; last on Apr 16, 2008

Taxpayers are bailing out Wall Street

Sun, Mar 16, 2008, 8:19 pm  //  John Servais

On this supposedly quiet Sunday afternoon in Bellingham, the world beyond us is in severe turmoil. Some of the world's biggest bankers are in frantic meetings in New…

0 comments

Transportation Economics

Wed, Feb 27, 2008, 2:10 pm  //  Craig Mayberry

It looks like another legislative session and another missed opportunity to deal with transportation problems in the state, especially around Seattle. Both political parties seem to ignore some…

1 comments; last on Feb 27, 2008

Stimulating the Economy

Tue, Feb 05, 2008, 7:53 pm  //  Tip Johnson

I'm amazed at the response our Administration and Congress have taken toward news that the economy might be in trouble. Their idea is to write a bunch of…

1 comments; last on Feb 07, 2008

 

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