Monday, January 4, 2010

An Effective Rental Licensing Program Coming to Bellingham? Maybe...

Although the Zonemaven was out of town for most of December, he was not out of touch with the latest in the world of illegal rooming houses. You may remember a previous post six months ago on this blog in which the Zonemaven described the deterioration of the character of 34th St. in the Samish Neighborhood due to lack of enforcement of city codes. (Click here and then scroll down to read that part of the entry on 34th St.) Not much has changed since, in spite of numerous complaints to various governmental entities. Here is a quote from an email sent to city officials on January 3rd by a long-time resident of 34th St. It is a bit telegraphic in style, but the Zonemaven believes you will get the gist.

“We are now entering our 5th year with more than one (4) illegal rooming houses in our neighborhood. 1127 34th St. is currently in foreclosure. This house has 7 bedrooms. Now what do you think will become of this parcel. And we are at what point?????

Same place as 4 years ago!!!! Are we having fun yet?

Here is listing of the latest activities at 1306 34th St.:

- Dec 31, 2009 Two Sheriff patrol cars in the drive way at @ 2:10 PM . Anyone willing to share WHY? Do we as neighbors arm ourselves, buy attack dogs, purchase body armor? Just what/who do we have in our neighborhood??

-Jan 1, 2010 (10:45 am) Remaining cars after the New Year’s party. 12 cars. 4 parked on street. Recall this is a narrow 2 lane road with no sidewalks on this portion of 34th St.

-Jan 1, 2010 8:20 am. 7 cars.

Let’s do a recap of 2009 for 1306 34th St (since the start of college in 2009).

-3 (possibly 4) 911 calls. ALL BY DIFFERENT NEIGHBORS

-2 calls to animal control, as the dogs were harassing walker and bikers. Banished dogs return one more time after that and ran the neighborhood.

-5 FORMAL complaints provided to city in 2009. ALL BY DIFFERENT NEIGHBORS. Formal complaints are a yearly event.

-Friday night parties every Friday night except 2 weekends since college started mid 2009.

Same absentee slumlords... Out of sight out of mind.

This house problem has spanned the following:

3 Mayors, numerous city council personnel, 2 Chiefs of Police and the SAME CITY ATTORNEY.

May the New Year bring you folks Peace and Prosperity. We know what we have in store.”

As Bellingham lumbers into 2010, can we expect to see action from the City Council on these problems? The most recent Council meeting on rental housing licensing was on December 7th, 2009, over a year after the Council’s staff study on the subject was available in draft form. They decided to ask their Legislative Policy Analyst to look into the development of a rental licensing law which would include self-certification by landlords and a possibility of inspection on a complaint-only basis. (See the video of the Council’s decision by clicking here. Fast forward the video to minute 202.5 where the discussion begins).

The Zonemaven finds the Council's approach unacceptable and opines that any rental housing licensing that only requires registration, followed by self-certification is a waste of time. It is much like having restaurants self-certify that they are abiding by the health code rules and depending only on complaints from those who dine in these establishments. In that case, we might easily find ourselves afflicted with the “green apple two-step” from eating food prepared in kitchens that the owners “think” are clean. Rentals, as well as restaurants, are accommodations offered to the public and, as such, should be inspected regularly. This is in contrast to private homes that do not serve the public as rentals. Arguments to conflate the rental and the owner occupied single family homes are specious in this regard.


Rank My Proprety Manager said...

Hey Zonemaven,

I am not sure if you are interested but we finally posted up a brief interview we had with a local group, Painless Properties Inc.

Zonemaven said...

My readers can find this interview at:

Anonymous said...

INTERESTING blog... but do you really think using a hammer in the form of a "Rental Licensing Program" is an effective tool for solving these issues? Has anyone ever thought to simply call the property owners when an problem comes up? I think most homeowners care about their property and would appreciate getting a heads up from one of the neighbors when a issue arises, allowing them to address the problem with their tenants before things get out of control.

Drop the hammer, pick up a telephone instead.

Zonemaven said...

I invite you to read any number of my prior posts since 2007 wherein I describe or quote those who, in spite of calls to the tenants and owners, continue to suffer from the effects of illegal rooming houses. I get reports from frustrated home-owners all over the city. Moreover, your suggestion does not speak to the issue of the condition of these rentals with respect to the health and safety of the tenants.

Note the following from a paper on a newly instituted inspection program in Lexington, KY. There is little reason to expect that Bellingham's housing stock is in better shape.

“Recent inspections of housing in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Kentucky by city fire inspectors revealed an alarming number of life safety fire code violations, Mayor Jim Newberry said today.”

“Inspections revealed five times the incidence of serious life safety issues as are normally found in comparable inspections of apartments or businesses. Serious life safety issues included no smoke detectors or inoperable smoke detectors in bedrooms, people sleeping in attics with no outside exit and hasp locks on the outside of bedroom doors.”

“…50 percent of the properties inspected had serious violations.”