Saturday, October 3, 2009

WWU Students Fight Back in the Rental Market - And with Reason

A recent article in the Western Front, the student newspaper for Western Washington University, (Click here to read the article) described the frustrations of student renters in dealing with landlords. So much so that a student, Kamran Rahman, created a website entitled* where exasperated renters are to post comments about their (mis)adventures with their landlords. The article then goes on to provide anecdotes of un-refunded security deposits, court cases, court continuances, attorney fees, etc. while only hinting at other problems.

Zonemaven suggests that it is precisely those other problems that need to be brought into the naked light of day, not only by posting them on this new website, but also by organizing students to support a rental licensing law in the City of Bellingham. Each year thousand of students are dumped into a rental market consisting largely of homes rented by owners who submit to absolutely no control or regulation. The City of Bellingham leaves its renters to swim in a sea of unknowns.

From my blog entry (Click here) on June 4th last year:

"Well, what is known about rentals of single family homes here in Bellingham?
Have landlords added or modified bedrooms? We do not know.
Do all bedrooms have fire exits? We do not know.
Do these rentals have smoke detectors? We do not know.
Do these rentals have carbon monoxide detectors? We do not know.
Do these rentals have adequate wiring? We do not know.
Do these rentals have adequate plumbing? We do not know.
Do these rentals have adequate heating? We do not know.
Do these rentals have mold or mildew problems? We do not know.
Do these rentals have insect infestations? We do not know.
Do these rentals have gas leaks? We do not know.
Do these rentals have structural problems? We do not know.
Do these rentals have other safety or health issues? We do not know.
Is there overcrowding in these rentals? We do not know.
Are necessary repairs made by landlords? We do not know.
Is there price gouging by landlords? We do not know.
Is there a system of inspections of rental homes in Bellingham? We do know. None.
Are landlords of rental homes licensed by the city? We do know. None.
Will it take a death or serious injury to spur the city to action? Do we want to know?"

It is in the best interests of the students themselves to see a municipal code which speaks to their health and welfare. There has been a de facto tyranny in the market place by landlords for many decades. Now is the time, not only for students, but also young wage earners and families of modest means to tell their city that they are tired of rental housing that undergoes no inspections or controls of any kind.

*Not to be confused with (click here to see that site), which has been in existence now for several years and serves a nation-wide audience. There is a place to enter data on rentals by WWU students.

8 comments: said...

I found your blog from the Western Front article. Very cool blog! Keep it up! I will be checking up periodically.

Zonemaven said...

Glad you like the blog. I will provide a link on my blog page to your site.

Anonymous said...

I know you are well-intentioned but licensing rental properties isn't one of the duties in the city charter.

We have seen what government does with power and we cannot AFFORD it. Remember the septic tank inspection fiasco. Folk who built last years still have to fork our $300 for an inspection.

Virtually EVERY concern you have can be taken care of by CONTRACT, or by Caveat Emptor, and neither of which require further submission to the government.

With all due respect, since you mention your military service, you swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution perhaps it would be a good time to read it again. The document was crafted to RESTRAIN GOVERNMENT POWER, not to make us SUBMIT to government power.

Freedom means not having to ask permission or to get a permit. Zoning is the opposite of freedom............

just sayin'

BTW, thank-you for your public service and pro-community spirit! I will enjoy the link about property management companies;-)

Zonemaven said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for being a faithful reader in spite of your objections to what I say. That being said...

I believe if you give the city charter a good read you will find that it provides ample room for the city council to pass laws, even those regulating businesses to include rental property. As to affordability, even a modest fee to license a rental will more than provide sufficient funds to process the licensing and perform inspections. Can we afford not to do it when we put at risk the health and welfare of our renters? Nobody thinks that inspection of restaurants is too much of a burden on the citizenry and the restaurant owners.

I believe the septic tank "fiasco" was a Whatcom County issue and not that of the city.

My oath as a military officer has nothing to do with municipal management. Even so, the oath of office was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against its enemies. I don't think the founding fathers were into rental housing licensing.

Zoning is a recognized right according to the US Supreme Court (as early as 1974). Many state supreme courts have also upheld the right of municipalities to limit densities in certain zones.

Anonymous said...

I found you linked to the Herald and have stopped in from time to time.

Thanks for your reply, but you said nothing about the free, private solutions I proposed.

Certainly what I proposed is simpler and more concrete than some new bureaucracy that will forever need to justify it's existence and suck more taxes and fees out of the populace. The website link you provided is great, and I think that is the AMERICAN way to solve problems while not encroaching on property rights.

Sorry, after last September I have lost faith in our government, at every level, to do the right thing.....

Zonemaven said...

I can certainly understand your frustration with government. I am sure we might share some similar concerns.

Nothing really beats inspections conducted by someone other than the owner. Otherwise we could have restaurants, hospitals, etc. on a self-inspection regime. I am not too sure that you would want to go to a restaurant or hospital that is certified because the owner said it was good to go. There are legitimate reasons for which government must provide the OK for businesses to operate. Our recent financial crisis was brought about, in part, by insufficient government control.

Caveat emptor assumes an educated citizenry. Contracts are about as worthwhile as the intentions of those who sign them.

college singles said...

I was going to write a similar blog concerning this topic, you beat me to it. You did a nice job!Thanks and well add your rss to come categories on our blogs.Thank you so much, Jon B. college singles

bojoda said...

What to do when city officials determine to ignore regulations and any attempts to discuss regulatory requirements? Perpetual Confusion
anonymous post yesterday