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.