Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rental Home Fire- Possible Bad Wiring - Smoke Detector without Battery

Although this rental house fire took place in Blaine (read the story here) , the message to Bellingham should be clear. The city should create and pass into law a rental licensing and inspection program for the health and safety of the renters in our more than 17,000 rental units. Consider this:

1985 - A rental house on Laurel St. exploded and burned to the ground due to a gas leak. The WWU students renting the place had thought they smelled gas months before but ignored it. Luckily they moved out prior to the incident.

1995 - Six people lost their lives in a Meridian St. rental home that was equipped with smoke detectors that contained no batteries.

2009 - A fire caused by poor wiring destroyed a rental home on Tremont Ave. in the Guide Meridian/Cordata area.

In this latest instance the renter was saved by her dog. We cannot all have dogs, nor can dogs warn renters about mold, bad plumbing, lead paint, deteriorating structure issues or insufficient exits. Yet the landlords say we do not need an inspection program. That there are only a few “bad” eggs. That the city seeks to “punish” the good landlords. The truth is that even the good landlords are not experts in judging the condition of their homes.

Meanwhile in Olympia, your State Senators Brandland and Ranker just voted FOR an unnecessary law that will limit inspections to rental units. This bill, a cousin to one that was not passed last year in a fit of common sense, was initiated and promoted by landlords and their friends in the “rental industry”, as they like to call themselves. This year, Senators Hobbs, Berkey, Marr and Schoesler succeeded in reintroducing a limiting bill which passed the Senate on February 15th, 2010. It is now being considered in the House. (Click here to read the bill) From the latest Bill Analysis: “A local municipality may only require a certificate of inspection on a rental property once every three years. Rental properties are exempt from inspection if, within the last four years, they have received a certificate of occupancy and had no reported code violations. Rental properties that have been inspected by a government agency or other qualified inspector within the previous 24 months may provide proof of that inspection, which the local municipality may accept in lieu of a certificate of inspection.”

These inspection restrictions are entirely arbitrary and impose on all cities in Washington State unjustified restrictions which work only to the advantage of the landlord. I urge you to write to your representative while there is still time to stop this bill in the House. Click on each name to send an email.

40th District

42nd District

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Open Letter to Students on Rental Licensing

Although it may appear to be counter-intuitive to some, students should be at the forefront of support for a rental licensing law in Bellingham. A recent editorial in the Western Front suggested that licensing, although having some merit, is not for the moment as these are difficult economic times. (Click here to read the editorial) The Zonemaven believes that the editorial board is short-sighted in its assessment of the situation. This myopia not only places the current set of students at continuing risk, but also inconsiderately condemns those future students who might otherwise arrive in Bellingham to a safe and secure rental market.

In spite of claims that licensing will bring about rent increases, the reality is that a fee of $30-36 (which is that suggested in a recent study on licensing prepared for the City Council) might, if the landlord chooses, add a mere $3 per month to a rental charge. This will fund the licensing program and salaries for additional code enforcement personnel. The price of a large mocha coffee per month is hardly an unacceptable amount given the prospect of increased health and safety protections that a licensing and inspection program would bring. The Zonemaven’s question to the students is: “How valuable is your well-being?”

For those who lament possible rent increases due to required, post-inspection repairs, one must remember that present rents paid by students and young workers are as result of such increases that have taken place over the last several decades. There is no free ride. Landlords have not been in the business of charity nor will they likely begin to act as such. I do not advocate price gouging on their part but there is a certain amount of overhead in keeping a rental clean and safe. Landlords run a business, which is precisely the reason their properties should be licensed, inspected and then brought to code. If a landlord is incapable or unwilling to maintain his or her rental property, then that landlord would do best to get out of the business and sell the home.

The editorial also implies that inspections are unnecessary in that the tenant has the right to call for an inspection at any time. This is true but places the tenant (that means YOU) in the position of being an expert on furnaces, mold, structural integrity of homes, plumbing and wiring or of being sufficiently informed to divine that there is even a problem. Does anyone believe that more than a handful of the 8,500 Western students (more if you include WCC and BTC), who seek housing here each year, even think about vermin, wiring or structural integrity?

Student renters in Bellingham number well over 10,000, if one takes into account those at Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College. That is a potent political force. Use it! Why accept substandard housing? Why pay increasing rents in return for overcrowded and unhealthy living conditions? You, the students, are in a position to change the status quo. Tell the landlords and the city, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going take it anymore." (Thank you, Howard Beale) Tell the City Council that you expect Bellingham to control its rental housing stock and to make your home-away-from-home a peaceful, quiet and safe place to live. How much is your life and your health worth, regardless of the economic climate? At the time an accident occurs or a life is lost, what then will be the stance of the city government? Or of you, the students?

Write Mayor Dan Pike at Write the City Council members at Tell them that you want to have safe housing not only now but for those coming to WWU, WCC and BTC in the future. Tell them you are also concerned about all the families of modest means who share the risks associated with being forced to live in an unlicensed and uninspected rental market. Yours can be a lasting legacy in this city.