Following a year and a half of discussion and community input, the Lakewood City Council adopted a Rental Housing Safety Program on Aug. 1, 2016.
Adoption of the program passed on a 6-1 vote, and the City will now work on the program’s implementation.
A new chapter of the Lakewood Municipal Code – a chapter that is modeled after Rental Housing Safety Programs from other Washington cities such as Tukwila, Pasco and Bellingham – will be added. The chapter recognizes that the Rental Housing Safety Program “will protect the public health, safety and welfare of tenants by encouraging proper maintenance of residential housing, by identifying and requiring correction of substandard housing conditions, and by preventing conditions of deterioration and blight that could adversely impact the quality of life in Lakewood.”
Essentially, the program will require that owners of rental housing units obtain a “Certificate of Inspection” every five years.
The program will apply to residential housing units that a tenant occupies or rents, or are available for rent. The program also specifies units that are exempt from the certificate requirement. They include:
- Owner-occupied (or ones occupied by an owner’s child or parents) units
- Units unavailable for rent
- Any facility – hotel, motel, condominium, resort, or any other facility or place offering three or more lodging units to guests for periods of less than thirty days, provided that if any guest resides for a period of thirty days or more
- Housing accommodations in retirement or nursing homes
- Housing accommodations in any hospital, State-licensed community care facility, convent, monastery or other facility occupied exclusively by members of a religious order, or an extended medical care facility
- Rental units that a government unit, agency or authority owns, operates or manages, or that are specifically exempted from municipal regulation by State or federal law or administrative regulation
- Newly constructed rental units with satisfactory certificate of occupancy and no code violations for ten years from the date of the certificate of occupancy
- Rental units that receive funding or subsidies from the federal, state or a local government, are inspected at least every three years as a requirement of the funding or subsidy, provide a copy of the inspection to the City and for which the Director determines that the inspection is substantially equivalent to the inspection
- Accessory dwelling units
- Shelters and transitional housing.
- Housing units which may be exempt from inspection as may otherwise be provided by law
Before they took the vote, several Lakewood City Councilmembers commented on the need for this particular program in Lakewood.
It’s “a step in the right direction,” according to Councilmember Mike Brandstetter. “There are numerous examples throughout our history where the community, as a whole, has taken on things that not only benefits oneself, but the greater good, as well.”
Councilmember John Simpson: “We have to move forward. This is a proactive tool to improve the City.”
Councilmember Paul Bocchi said the program gives tenants living in substandard rental housing a voice. “Some of these tenants live in intolerable conditions. They lack the ability or knowledge to access the system. They’re scared to complain.”
Councilmember Mary Moss recalled one particular apartment complex in Lakewood and how, without a Rental Housing Safety Program, the problems many tenants face don’t necessarily come to light: “From the outside, they didn’t look that bad, but once we got inside those homes, it was scary.”
Councilmember Marie Barth, who cast the lone vote against the program, said she agreed that many rental housing units in Lakewood are unsatisfactory. However, her view is those problems can be solved via existing ordinances and codes. She acknowledged that the program was “the hardest vote” the current Council has had to make.
Deputy Mayor Jason Whalen said, as a rental housing unit owner, he understands that many of the problems aren’t the landlords’ fault. Still, “I’m not sure how we change the swinging pendulum other than to change the status quo. If we continue to do the same thing and expect different results, we’re not going to get where we want to be with regard to our Vision.”
Finally, Mayor Don Anderson, who was also a landlord, echoed how it’s not always the landlord’s fault. Still, it is important for the City to address “the bad apples” that the program aims to correct so those looking to rent – including Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers and their families – choose Lakewood. “My rule is to first try and do what’s right. And in this case, we can do nothing, or we can try.”Print This Post