Thursday, July 30, 2009

WWU Students Confused on Rentals? - Small Wonder

In the 21 July 2009 print edition of the Western Front there appeared an advertisement for homes for rent near WWU. (Click on the image at left) My assumption is that since the ad appeared in the student newspaper, the target population was the student body, i.e., those looking for lodging for the coming year. On 29 July 2009, I visited the website,, and found 17 four and five bedroom single family homes for rent. Most of the homes are owned by Huntco, LLC and 35th St. Properties, LLC. One wonders if the owners are aware that their homes could be rented or occupied in violation of the law. All but two of the homes were in single family zoned neighborhoods which means that they fall under the Bellingham Municipal Code which limits the number of unrelated renters to three. In fact, the photo in the ad is that of a five (5) bedroom unit on S. 41st St. which is zoned single family. Nowhere on the site was there a cautionary note to prospective clients with regard to the limitations placed on the number of renters. (This is not the first time I have written about Ebenal ads in the Western Front. See my blog entry from April 2008 by clicking here.)

Unless students have already visited the Viking Union (VU) rental listing website or the bulletin board at the VU, there is little expectation that they will be aware of the city codes on illegal rooming houses. Much to its credit, The VU has taken steps to inform students of limitations on rentals. Dean Ted Pratt and VU Facilities Director Jim Schuster were instrumental in placing warning notices on the VU bulletin boards and the VU on-line rental housing list.

On the other hand, the management of the Western Front has not responded to any of my efforts to have them remove from the newspaper advertising for single family rentals which are problematic with respect to violating the municipal code that bars rooming houses in single family neighborhoods. I even received an email request early this year from Carolyn Nielsen, the faculty advisor to the Western Front, asking me to remove her from my Zonemaven mailing list so that she could give priority to the “so much” student emails she receives. I complied with her request but I cannot help but think of the thousands of students who remain clueless about rental advertising in the Front since she lacks information which might help in her advisory capacity.

It is time the Western Front and Ebenal clean up their rental advertising. At a minimum each rental ad should contain the caveat on the limit of unrelated renters. If the Front or Ebenal needs a reference, here is the relevant code portion: “ Title 20 LAND USE DEVELOPMENT, Chapter 08 DEFINITIONS, 20.08.020 - SPECIFIC DEFINITIONS -F. 1. Family: One or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or not more than 3 unrelated persons, living together within a single dwelling unit. For purposes of this definition children with familial status within the meaning of Title 42 United States Code, Section 3602(k) and individuals with disabilities within the meaning of Title 42 United States Code, Section 3602(h) will not be counted as unrelated persons. "Adult family homes," as defined by RCW 70.128.175, are included within the definition of "family." Facilities housing individuals who are incarcerated as the result of a conviction or other court order shall not be included within this definition.”

I have written previously on this and related subjects. You can read those blog entries by clicking here, here here and here.


Anonymous said...

I thought the Bellingham PD had created a position for an enforcement officer for these violations. Are you aware if this position has actually been effective in fining rental property owners who break the law?

Zonemaven said...

The job of Litter Control Officer at the BPD was changed to that of Neighborhood Compliance Officer. I have no indication that anyone has been fined. The City Council was to have taken up a measure to decriminalize the infraction so that it becomes a civil matter. So far, no action on the part of the council.

Anonymous said...

August is the month for "preparing for new college rental neighbors".

I live in a "family" neighborhood and unfortunately i have a rental house of 5 unrelated's next door.

What has helped our family deal with the annoyance better is early communication.

1. Meet them all as SOON as they move in.
2. Welcome them to and remind of this is a "family" neighborhood.
3. If they need any emergency house repair tool or help. Knock anytime or call. "Because your landlord doesn't lift a finger to take care of his property"
4. Quiet "sleep" times begin by 9pm.
5. "Let us know ahead of time if you are going to have an "occasional" party on the weekend.
6. Get all their phone #'s.
7. I remind them "you guys aren't usually a problem but your visiting friends are, remind them of our "family" neighborhood.
8. "If i can't get a hold of you with my phone, with lets say a noise complaint. The police WILL be at your door. They respond rather quickly and arrive silently with lights off after I call 911."
9. I usually buy them a pizza or two a year to give them a "bone" for being good neighbors.

These tips help. But lay the expectations EARLY. Like a puppy or a child.

Zonemaven said...

Dear Anonymous,

I commend you on your forbearance and willingness to engage these renters, however, I might add some information to assist you in welcoming new renters.

1. If there are 5, then the landlord is breaking the law. Perhaps you may wish to speak to him about that or file a complaint with the Bellingham PD Neighborhood Compliance Officer.

2. The landlord also has other responsibilities under the Washington landlord-tenant laws. It is nice that you loan tool kit items but the tenants have rights with respect to having a properly maintained rental home.

3. The Bellingham noise ordinance is in effect 24/7. The 9pm "sleep time" is irrelevant.

4. I am not sure why you want to know ahead of time that the renters are going to have a party. I and my neighbors have gatherings all the time but do not notify the neighbors. The reason? We are not looking for a "pass" since our guests arrive and depart quietly and there is no noise from the house having the party. Your neighbors should expect the same from the renters.

5. I think it is a good idea for everyone in the neighborhood to have the phone number of the others for reasons which have nothing to do with parties but have a lot to do with safety. Our BlockWatch ensures that we all know one another.

I am sure that the renters appreciate the occasional pizza but as a homeowner near Whatcom Falls said to me a while back: "I am tired of training these puppies."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback.

I am aware of the 24/7 noise ordinance. noise issues occur after 9 around here.

The "knowing" of a party in advance lets me remind the renters issues of noise, litter, parking, new or updated phone numbers, and i'm not walking over to tell them to quiet. if they don't answer the phone and or comply, the police will.

I've been playing this game for 7 years and it really has improved things, than when we dealt with them in the first years.

I will chat with the neighborhood compliance officer.


Anonymous said...

Maybe its about time somebody took the ordinance to court. # unrelated is unconstitutional. If it's not then you better start evicting unrelated couples that live together with kids that are unrelated. This is 2009 not the 1950's with Ozzie and Harriet.

Zonemaven said...

Dear Anonymous,

Well, such ordinances have been taken to court again and again and again. As early as 1974, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a similar ordinance in Belle Terre vs Boraas. You can read this decision, written by Justice William O. Douglas, by clicking on the Belle Terre vs Boraas link on the left hand side of my blog's first page. There are also links there to state supreme court decisions on the same issue from Iowa and Indiana. Even the city of Bellingham now recognizes that such ordinances are not unconstitutional.

Anonymous said...

Is this ordinance still in effect? What about 2 sisters and 2 different brothers? A total of 4.
Would that pass the code?

Zonemaven said...

Yes, the ordinance is still in effect.

Not sure about the 2 sisters and the two brothers. The city attorney would have to comment on that.