Under the guise of yet another – five currently – program to address so-called “rental housing problems within the city,” Lakewood’s sixth – in the form of a proposed ordinance that is distinguished from the other five in that it would for the first time require access by city-approved inspectors to the interior of private rental properties – may very well be literally a foot-in-the-door, a portend of things to come.
Ostensibly, at least for now, “ensuring a standard of safe and decent living conditions for everyone who lives in rental housing in the City” is the claim found on several city website documents tracing the research and development of the “Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program” (RHSP), or RIP.
What happens next – should the overwhelming opposition to the measure that has been expressed so far be viewed by Council as no more than the so-much-typical ‘no-one-likes-change’ hue-and-cry from those they are elected to represent – may well be that as just transpired in Seattle.
David Kroman reports in the June 6, 2016 issue of “Crosscut” that landlords will be “forbidden from raising rents until they bring their properties up to standards.
“Under this new proposal, landlords will be required to bring buildings up to code before they can raise rents.”
And that’s just the beginning.
“The next step in a forthcoming series of tenant protections laws: a bill to cap move-in costs,” Councilmember Kshama Sawant promised.
As to legislation opponents who argued “that this is a form of rent control, which is prohibited under state law, and could open the city to lawsuits,” Seattle Councilwoman Councilmember Lisa Herbold countered, in effect, ‘bring it.’
If the city did end up in court, Herbold saber-rattled, “‘our response should be to take this even further,’ advocating for doubling down on tenant protections and repealing the Washington State ban on rent control.”
Heading down that road is Lakewood’s City Council with its own – but similar – version of RIP.
While at its retreat held on February 21, 2015 “Council was clear that no consideration will be given to legislation without a better understanding of the community perspective” – to which end on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. “the Lakewood City Council will hear public testimony” regarding its proposal – nevertheless the draft of the rental housing inspection checklist is done; dates requiring property owners to register have been set; ‘commencement exercises’ for the entering of private rental properties by city- or city-approved inspectors is scheduled; fees associated with the program (estimated by city staff at $175,000 annually) to be borne by landlords are in place; and financial remuneration “comply or face penalties” are threatened.
Ironically, this same date of June 8, 2016, M.D. Kittle writes in “Watchdog.org” of the proposal by lawmakers – of all things – to institute a “Homeowner’s Bill of Rights to protect homes from government.” While specifically referencing “land-grabs”, the article contains an interesting quote that may well characterize Lakewood’s Rental Inspection Program:
“Unfortunately, the creep of overbearing government at all levels has imperiled property rights and homeownership. It’s time for reform that protects and defends homeowners,” said the lawmakers, “from non-essential regulation.”
Betsy Tainer says
Thank you David!
The RIP program is intrusive. As a landlord I try to respect the fact that although I do own the property, it is my tenants home and they are paying to use it. I intrude on their lives as little as possible and always try to do it respectfully.
This is business. I provide a service, a commodity. I have a right to manage my business and determine the fair price for my investment and the services that I provide.
If they imagine they’ll institute rent controls they’re flat out crazy. Both of my long term tenants in Lakewood have the luxury, thus far, of only facing increases to cover increased costs to me, ie, property taxes, insurance, water, sewer, garbage and electricity (onsite coin-op laundry on separate meter). These costs have risen substantially. So, unless they can control those factors, as well as the increased costs of materials, contractors, etc. they really have no business dabbling in that.
Rent control tactics were tried in NYC and turned out very badly when landlords had no incentive to make any repairs or improvements to properties. They couldn’t afford to. And who would want to buy an investment/rental property in an area where they had no control over the outcome of their investment?
With residential investment/rental property providing nearly half of the housing in Lakewood these measures could result in a less vibrant investment in Lakewood. It has potential to have devastating effects on the neighborhoods, communities and the housing market. Clearly, everyone who can, or wants to own their home in Lakewood does already. If these measures scare off the investors/landlords to other, more amenable communities to buy, it has potential to take a big swipe out of that market. Am I wrong?
Honestly, if my tenants refuse entry of a city inspector, I absolutely wouldn’t fight it. If my tenants insisted on being present for an inspection, then the inspector might have to make him/herself available on nights and/or weekends. I doubt seriously if I would even cooperate to that level. I see it as an intrusion on my life. I hear too that they will demand some landlord training. Really? What exactly will that accomplish and who is going to compensate me for my time and trouble?
If they are truly concerned about the ‘substandard’ rental housing market… then they need to apply their efforts toward economic development or other measures. The city of Tacoma owns a tremendous number of housing units that they provide to low income people. There are any number of programs to help people pay rent via section 8 and other programs… those landlords comply with rigorous inspections and oversight… the cost of participating in such a program. I chose not to, because I don’t chose to have the city/state or anyone else that far up in my business.
I heard at one of the meetings someone talking about a nearby rental that clearly had drug activity that was impacting the marketability of her investment property. There are laws and provisions in place to address those situations. The RIP wouldn’t have any impact on that kind of activity. There are city codes regarding the care, appearance, condition of housing/structures/properties in general in Lakewood. Why aren’t those codes sufficient to address any concerns? There are state laws regarding landlord tenant laws that would/could apply. Why aren’t these sufficient to address any concerns?
They’ve already held numerous meetings, info sessions, taken letters, emails, heard public comment. Why do they need more? WHO, besides the city, is supporting the establishment of this program?
They need to just call it what it is… A MONEY GRAB. And the costs associated with it will outweigh any benefit. With establishing an office, rules, hiring, protocol, probably litigation, etc. It’s so clearly not a good move.
David Anderson says
All valid concerns you raise Betsy. Just responding to one. You write, “Honestly, if my tenants refuse entry of a city inspector, I absolutely wouldn’t fight it. If my tenants insisted on being present for an inspection, then the inspector might have to make him/herself available on nights and/or weekends. I doubt seriously if I would even cooperate to that level. I see it as an intrusion on my life.”
As you might imagine, the city has considered actions against non-compliant landlords:
“7. Noncompliance. A city may assess a penalty for noncompliance. Further, a city may also notify the landlord that until a certificate of inspection is provided, it is unlawful to rent or to allow a tenant to continue to occupy the dwelling unit.” May 9, 2016 memo to the City Council prepared by RIP architects Dave Bugher, Community and Economic Development, and Heidi Wachter, City Attorney as found here:
Joseph Boyle says
Thank you for taking the time to express your views, which I hope our city will pay attention to.
Chris Anderson says
Spot on Betsy! And as we have seen in the past….And here’s something to consider….where Lakewood goes, University Place often follows…..just sayin’.
Chris Anderson says
WHY is there NOT an edit feature for posts here, lol!?
John Arbeeny says
You’ve hit all the bases Betsy Tainer! A home run! Let me just add my experience growing up in Brooklyn NY (1946-1967) under the thumb of rent control. It was set up during WW2 to prevent what government called “rent gouging” with the influx of workers into the city during the war. Like many government programs it never expired after the alleged “need” expired: in this case the end of the war. Rents were strictly regulated by rent control rules filling a phone book. 3% for a new refrigerator; 2% for repaint; 2% after certain longevity, etc. As a result we had tenants who were paying $35.00 a month (in 1967) for a 2 bedroom apartment when the market rent was well over $200.00 a month. As you might expect, tenant turn over was non-existent given these ridiculously low rents. Without adequate income landlord properties fell into disrepair and were abandoned and available housing stocks fell as no investor would consider building under these circumstances. However there is always a loophole. Abandoned or condemned buildings could come off rent control if vacant for one year. As a result tenants were put out into the streets, buildings made uninhabitable (even to the point of arson) picked up for unpaid back taxes; rehabbed thereafter and rented at market rents. It was the beginning of gentrification where wealthy outsiders pushed out the area’s long term residents and made a killing. Case in point. My grandmother’s brownstone building was getting between $35.00 and $45.00 for a 2 bedroom apartment. Across the street were four brownstones that had a suspicious fire which vacated them for over a year. They were rehabbed, after exiting rent control, and their studio apartments were going for $110.00 each! This is what happens when government sticks its nose into where it doesn’t belong: the law of unintended consequences. We’re seeing the same thing with the $15.00 minimum wage. Whenever government pulls or pushes the market place unfortunate unintended damage occurs.
Joseph Boyle says
Thank you for your comments. Rent controls can follow “foot in the door”.
I spent 40 years in the rental investment, development business including ownership of a Lakewood property management company in the previous in the 1900s. I am retired and no longer own rentals, so I do not have a horse in this race. None the less, I am 100% dead set against the City of Lakewood’s RIP idea.
The city needs to attack the slumlords, not the landlord business people who are doing a good job.