Now that the Lakewood City Council is on record as having expressed its “consensus to consider an ordinance to initiate a five year inspection cycle” of rental properties in the city (May 16, 2016 City Council Agenda), with a public hearing slated for June 20 and a vote by the council likely to take place one day after Independence Day, here are some questions to hopefully generate the community feedback the council says it seeks on this issue.
City Attorney Heidi Wachter, co-author with Community Development Director Dave Bugher of the research and development for the proposed RIP (pp.44-60 of the City Council May 9, 2016 Study Session), will present at the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association meeting June 2, 6:30 P.M., Tillicum Community Center, 14916 Washington Ave. SW.
- There are already “five (5) effective programs currently in use to address rental housing problems within the city,” acknowledge Bugher/Wachter. So are more better? Or even necessary? Bugher/Wachter respond: “Existing tools are not designed for the proactive approach that might preempt the need for action when the situation further deteriorates.”
- If a RIP is not instituted, suggest Bugher/Wachter, the city will “continue to have problems with low quality rentals in the city.” Problems such as? How many? How serious?
- With a State of Washington Landlord-Tenant Act (Chapter 59.18 RCW), 76 sections, already covering the very matters – and far more – that Lakewood would address, from tenant access to cold and hot water, to “conditions immediately hazardous to life”, why yet another layer of government?
- Why a RIP which Bugher/Wachter admit would “require the city to increase its costs and establish new systems to support and maintain a rental housing program,” when there already exists a far more substantial program with far greater legal recourse for tenants, see Number 3 above?
- These new fees and the likelihood of rent increases that Bugher/Wachter further admit may accompany a RIP ($130,000 for property owners based on a 100% fee-based system), would not such an onerous ordinance not also increase the homeless population? “Research shows that when rent goes up by 100 dollars from one year to the next, homelessness increases by 15-39 percent.”
- One option (evidently dismissed, given its consensus to initiate the RIP as noted above) considered by the city council was “in lieu of rental housing inspections, initiate a robust tenant/landlord outreach program.” But a downside, according to Bugher/Wachter, was that “tenants will get into issues beyond the physical conditions of an apartment unit,” and a number of current RCW-related matters are then listed by Bugher/Wachter. So? Is not the point of “a robust tenant/landlord outreach program” to help all parties concerned know all their responsibilities, rights and privileges in order to live happily ever after, or at least safely and legally?
- Why are mobile homes not included in the proposed RIP but recommended to have yet another inspection program all of their own? No answer is given except that (a) such an “enforcement” of mobile homes would be “concentrated” and (b) generate $110,000 (1,100 mobile homes in Lakewood, at the recommended $100/each inspection fee) – enough to pay a third code enforcement officer?
As a footnote, a spokesperson for a similar program in Pasco suggested to “avoid being too strict for the initial period of enforcement” (foot-in-the-door), “and stepping up enforcement after the initial cycle.”
Chris Stevens says
Right on Dave.
David Wilson says
There are some horrible situations that I have personally seen and my sister had to live with; where slum lords don’t care about the living conditions of the poor and they should be held accountable. We obviously need more attention brought to this problem. what we have now is not working. I think its a great idea and the city is making the right decision and should move forward on it.
I think the council should approve it immediately.
John Arbeeny says
And so you support the City casting a net over 14000 rental units just to address the very few that are in poor condition? Typical response: expand government at the expense of liberty and responsibility. Please provide the names and addresses of the slum lords you apparently have first hand knowledge of….please. Aren’t you aware of the Washington State Landlord/Tenant Act which is very extensive regarding both landlord and tenant responsibilities? Your sister didn’t have to live with deplorable conditions. All she had to do was file a complaint with the State or for that matter with the City of Lakewood code enforcement. If she didn’t know or was unwilling to do that then don’t expect any government program to work. It was your and her responsibility to get involved and use the legal tools available to you to rectify things….not an excuse for another government program.
David Wilson says
That system didn’t work for her, no-one responded or showed up to her complaints. Still in it for Lakewood to take over. At least they want to help.
John Arbeeny says
Or was it that she didn’t work the system? I’d like to see her complaints please and I will personally stand on the desk of those responsible for not responding to her complaints. There is a difference between “wanting to help” and actually helping. Good intentions count for nothing. If they (government) truly wanted to help they would use the available laws to address problems rather than demanding another layer on top of layers of laws which don’t get enforced. The urge to do something, anything, rather than actually attack such problems is the unfortunate hallmark of too many Federal, State and local governments.
I agree that the rental inspection program is redundant and overreaching.
Since most substandard housing is owner occupied by long term owners who have let their properties get run down (rather than occupied by renters), this program would do little to improve the housing stock.
It will just increase landlord’s costs (and thereby rents) and also drive everyone’s property values down since Lakewood will be a less desirable place to own properties because of the extra bureaucracy and costs compared to other cities.