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.”