When a city adopts a rental inspection program, it means the originators and adopters – city staff and city council respectively – are tired of ‘fire-fighting.’
In a word: failed.
Five programs, in place, already – by the City of Lakewood, Washington’s own admission – to deal with property maintenance issues and what the city wants to see done isn’t getting done, so at great risk of public backlash they will insert themselves where no public official has gone uninvited before: into the private homes, albeit rentals, throughout their kingdom.
Helping people help themselves by referencing educational materials, resources, directing inquiries to a plethora of existing agencies – social and legal – by which to solve individual tenant/landlord property insufficiencies, is not, after all, expedient.
Dealing with the immediate problems as they arrive means someone must muddle through a supposed endless stream of tenant complaints when – let’s be honest – it’s just easier, much less messier, to avoid the one-on-one contact – some might say ‘social representative contract’ – for which a councilmember ostensibly was elected.
Facing the choice between representation and regulation, the city council in Lakewood chose the latter in passing, August 1, 2016, Ordinance No. 644.
“In lieu of rental housing inspections” RHI creators Dave Bugher and Heidi Wachter, Assistant City Manager for Community Development and City Attorney respectively, stated in their presentation early on to the city council that an option could be to “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.”
The city council decided not to go there, even was that true and not just conjecture.
Instead, they took this route. From the city’s website, and notice the emphasis:
“When your rental unit is scheduled for a safety inspection, you are allowed to ask to see the inspector’s ID before they enter your unit. Denying access after proper notice has been given will result in the penalties outlined in RCW 59.18.150(8). Remember: the inspector is there looking out for your best interest!”
“You are allowed to ask.”
Does not this ‘permission granted’ British-crown-like edict suggest – that while crawling, body prostrate, daring to steal a glance upward in abject fear of repercussions for having the audacity to utter anything at all – you may ask only if adding a whispered, whimpering ‘please’?
And, should you – thinking, evidently wrongly, that there might be something wrong with this picture, a fourth amendment constitutional right against the search of your home by an uninvited government-recommend hire for example – rise from your knees, declaring your independence, finding you do indeed have a spine which all other subjects have traded in on a wishbone, say, no longer trembling, no longer sub-serving: “Access Denied!” what then?
Penalties. The city refers you to the relevant RCW.
And then, as if that were not enough, the coup de grâce, a final insult adding to your injury.
Who is looking out for your best interest? Is that your representative councilmember at your door? Did any of the councilmembers who voted for this rental inspection program go through the Rental Housing Safety Program inspector’s training course?
Because a rental inspection program is what Otto Biederman, accountant for organized crime, would have described as – at least in his line of work – “Nothing personal, it’s just business.”
That’s the problem.
A rental inspection program is a business. It is not relational. It is not personable. And it is thus antithetical to the privilege of serving the individual – emphasis on ‘serving’, and ‘individual’ – as a representative: a representative of people, yes, people with problems and complaints; living, struggling with the day-to-day drama of making ends meet; who, if given the opportunity, may well pick up their phone, and take their three minutes at the microphone before the red light shines and the buzzer sounds before being summarily dismissed.
They – the people of this city – have names and faces, and it is these people – not city staff – council members are elected to represent.
Something to consider as you cast your vote – ballots mailed October 20 – for those you want to represent you.
Thank you for your outstanding articles! You always state facts, and I totally agree with you!
Why is the City of Lakewood just inspecting “Rentals” ? If they were truly concerned about “Safety”, all residential properties would be subject to this invasion of privacy. Sounds like Discrimination to me. Other than voting the people out of office, and I hope that happens. What can we do to fight for our rights as rental property owners? I really wanted you and Joe to run for the Lakewood City Council. Keep up the great work!!! I believe in Karma.
David Anderson says
Responding to your questions:
“Why is the City of Lakewood just inspecting ‘Rentals’?
That is a good question and we can only surmise the answers. Perhaps rentals are a literal foot-in-the-door, with homeowners next. Perhaps Rental Inspection Program (RIP) architects knew that such brazenness from the outset would certainly spell the end of any re-election hopes of the council who bought off on this – as this current matter might hopefully anyway.
The discrimination charge that you have raised is one successfully employed by the Facebook group “Renters Have Rights Too” (RHR2). It would be well for readers to ‘friend’ them on Facebook given RHR2 tracks court cases and the national pushback of people like those of us in Lakewood who are fighting government intrusion – even, and especially, under the guise of ‘safety’ – into private affairs.
“Other than voting the people out of office, and I hope that happens, what can we do to fight for our rights as rental property owners?”
Here are the options:
1. Contest it through the courts.
2. Encourage the voters not to return the incumbents to their current seats on the council.
3. Once we are able to accomplish that election victory, it should behoove the new members to request of the Municipal Research Services Center (MRSC) whether Ordinance No. 644 is susceptible to initiative which, per my research, it should be.
Ria Johnson-Covington, who is opposing incumbent John Simpson, has gone on record as stating she would work to send the RIP back to the drawing board when elected.
Simpson, on the other hand, made the motion to approve the $200,000 cost overrun for the software to support the RIP. Marie Barth, the lone city councilmember who at one time opposed the RIP, seconded that motion. It passed without discussion.
MRSC will only answer questions of elected representatives. All current councilmembers were polled individually to ask of MRSC that question. All refused. The petition has long since been drafted. We just need an elected representative with the wherewithal to do their due diligent representative duty.
Any elected representative, anywhere in Washington.
If you know of such an elected representative have them contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ideally it would be an elected representative for whom the following mattered:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. – 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Paul Wagemann, for example, is opposing Mary Moss in this Lakewood City Council race. Though Moss never replied to the request to appeal to MRSC, Wagemann did.
MRSC refused to answer his question even though he is an elected school board member. Then, ironically, MRSC sent Wagemann a questionnaire hoping he’d reply favorably about their services since MRSC was on the legislative bubble for elimination of their $3 million in taxpayer funds that keeps them in the business of refusing to answer questions of the common rabble.
The Shadow says
Dear Lakewood Tenant:
YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A RENT INCREASE…..PERHAPS A SUBSTANTIAL INCREASE IN THE NEAR FUTURE!
I regret having to write this letter but passage of Ordinance No. 644 on August 1, 2016, by Lakewood’s City Council established the Rental Inspection Program (RIP) in the City of Lakewood and made this a necessity. RIP, ostensibly for “safety” reasons, requires annual registration fees, inspection fees and unknown costs to comply with yet unannounced City inspection criteria. This applies to every one of 14000+ rental units in Lakewood. Tenants have no choice but to allow inspectors to enter their home without a warrant and the threat of police enforcement if you don’t. Who pays for this? You do.
RIP attempts to catch a few bad landlords by casting a dragnet over all landlords when there are several current laws and programs which effectively deal with the problem. RIP is already costing far more than that sold by Council. Most recently a $200,000 cost overrun (from $50,000!) for just the computer program to keep track of rentals surfaced. Who knows how much it will ultimately cost you, the tenant, in rent increases? Yet for all this expense a badly substandard rental might not be inspected for as long as 5 years so RIP does nothing to take care of such problems in the immediate future.
RIP is a direct assault on your 4th Amendment rights which prohibits warrantless searches without cause. Indeed, RIP was originally declared unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme court since the City hired inspectors thus became an arm of government violating your privacy rights. Not to be dissuaded, the City side stepped that prohibition with some legal trickery by now forcing landlords to hire these inspectors and do the City’s dirty work for them. Clever but totally dishonest even if it is “legal”
During several City “outreaches” to tenants and landlords leading up to passage of Ordinance No. 644, the attendees were nearly unanimous in their criticism and rejection of RIP but Council turned a deaf ear. There are now four tone deaf incumbent Council members who betrayed you and rolled over to City bureaucratic pressure. These are some of the same Council members who approved a $20.00 car tab fee to cover up their mismanagement of transportation funds. They should be defeated in the upcoming election by challengers who truly represent Lakewood’s residents. Make the choice that makes sense and “cents” in November and replace these incumbents with those who will listen, have common sense and will represent us all. Give a “rip” and vote to protect your rights this November!
Dan Dodge says
I don’t live in Lakewood so I have I cannot vote against the politicians that passed this law. I am going to sell my Lakewood rental. I have had very negative and expensive lessons from the Tacoma Rental Inspection Program. No thanks, Lakewood. I will invest else where.
Ballots are out
We have a chance to vote out the tyranny and invasion of this program.
I know I will take a stand with my ballot.