The City of Lakewood’s proposed Rental Housing Registration & Safety Inspection Program reminds me of the wedding scene in the fictitious Godfather trilogy movie series where Michael Carleone shares a story with his fiancee, Kay Adams.
The story goes like this. Michael’s father, Vito Carleone, loved his god-son, Johnny Fontane, who is a prominent singer. Johnny wanted to get out of his contract with his bandleader so he can pursue other opportunities. Vito offers the bandleader $10,000 to release Johnny. The bandleader refuses. Vito returns a second time with his enforcer, Luca Brasi, to present a second offer the bandleader cannot refuse.
During the second meeting, Luca holds a gun to the bandleader’s head. The band leader is informed that either his brains or his signature are going to be on the paper. The bandleader signs the paper and releases Johnny Fontane for a certified check in the amount of $1,000.
If our city enacts the proposed Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program, a scene similar to that in the Godfather will play out over and over again. The roll of Luca Brasi, the enforcer, will be played by the city rental inspector. The roll of the bandleader will be played by the private property owner / landlord or the property manager. The landlord / property manager will have a gun held to their head. Just like in the Godfather, the landlord / property manager will be forced to sign the paper.
What paper? The Washington State Landlord Tenant Law 48 hour right to enter notice requirement. Property owners / managers are not allowed to enter renter’s property even though they own the property unless they legally serve the tenant with a written 48 hour notice.
Some are of the opinion that the city can avoid being accused of violating the renter’s 4th Amendment rights by forcing the landlord / manager to issue a 48 hour notice of intent to inspect.
Like in the Godfather, there will be no real choice. If the landlord / property manager refuses, the city inspector will pull the trigger causing huge negative consequences for the victimized property owners / managers.
Signature or brains. Which will it be?
The gun to the head will force property owners / managers to become accomplices in this travesty of justice.
While the city may succeed legally dodging the renters 4th Amendment rights and thereby make the renters second class citizens, the city will fail on the ethical level. Either way, the result is the same. Renters and property owners are going to be forced to unlock their doors to the city safety squad.
Ask yourself, “How would I feel if the city safety squad, including uniformed law enforcement, forces me to open my door like I am the target of a drug raid?”
City could help eliminate the drug raid confusion if the raid team wore T-shirts that read on the back, “City of Lakewood believes renters are too weak minded to solve their own problems, so we are forcing you into a SAFTEY INSPECTION for your own good no matter how many innocent people we have to step on.”
The symbolic gun the city plans to hold to the property owner / manager’s head may well include the threat of fines, jail time and property redlining, marking the property as uninhabitable. Unintended consequences may flow should any renter refuse to cooperate or target city staff or law enforcement with lethal force.
City Council, you are working hard to make our City of Lakewood a first class city. Do not make the mistake of implementing the current proposal for the Rental Registration & Safety Inspection Program.
Yes, solve the slumlord problem, but solve the problem in a first class manner without generating collateral damage for innocent citizens.
David Anderson says
Now here this, should you fail to cooperate:
Section 11 (appropriately numbered, as in filing a Chapter 11)
A. ‘Any person failing to comply (with current rules and rules later adopted) may be punished $150/day for the first 10 days and $500/day for each day thereafter.
B. ‘Any person who knowingly submits or assists a falsified certificate of compliance in addition to the penalties (reread ‘A’) shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor and must be punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.’
You have been warned.
That will be all.
Failure-to-cooperate penalties found in the linked Lakewood document (p.6):
Pat Price says
It will take 26 years to inspect the thousands of Lakewood rental properties just once currently reported to be in Lakewood if you have no guidelines and just pick properties at random. If they are occupied during the inspection, you can probably add a year or two to that figure because of the time it will take for Inspectors to talk to the occupant based on 3 to 4 hours per inspection which is a minimum based on 40+ years experience inspecting properties. Occupied properties take one to two more hours to complete. A relatively thorough inspection takes two to four hours. 13700 rentals the City states are located in the city limits would take 26 years to inspect.
Joseph Boyle says
Ms. Price, Thanks for adding your expertise.
I will make certain City Council , city manager, assistant city manager & city attorney receive your input.
John Arbeeny says
The City of Lakewood’s attempt by doing an end run around the 4th Amendment I think is doomed to failure. The Washington State Supreme ruling against Seattle’s rental inspection program (RIP) was based upon the fact that Seattle planned to use an army of city government inspectors to do the inspections. This was seen as an unwarranted search by government, specifically by inspectors who were government employees. The solution: have instead private inspectors, paid for by the landlords to do the inspections at their personal cost. Very neat sidestep. The problem is that both the landlords and private inspectors have now become agents of government. The definition of an agent is “a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect.” In essence landlords and inspectors have become part of the government apparatus by being forced by law to take an active roll to produce a specified effect; this all without any probably cause. It makes no difference who the “actor” is in this case, be it employed inspector or agent, but rather for whom they act.
joseph Boyle says
Well said. Thank you for commenting.
Renters Rights says