Monday, January 24, 2011

The Chicken or the Egg - Support of a Rental Licensing Ordinance

Support for rental licensing seems to be a difficult topic for some neighborhoods and individuals. To date several neighborhoods have written to the Mayor or to the City Council to indicate that they would like to see licensing and inspection of rental units. These neighborhoods are York, Samish and Sunnyland. The Associated Students of WWU, that represents the student body at WWU, has passed a resolution in support of licensing. The student run newspaper, The Western Front, has also expressed support in an editorial last year. Why are others sitting on a fence?

The argument given is that there is no ordinance to support. This is true . It is also true that the City Council is hesitating on taking action on an ordinance, in part, because there is not enough support from the citizenry. So, we are in this gray zone of hesitant support until a draft ordinance makes its appearance and no draft ordinance until the support is there. Chicken/support - egg/draft. Egg/draft - chicken/support.

Dan Welch, The Mayor's Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) representative from the Birchwood Neighborhood, reminded the Zonemaven that the commission had asked "that a "mock-up" of this [licensing] program be put to paper...something tangible that MNAC could discuss further." Dan went on to say, "Over the past year we have not been presented with such a mock-up, describing the nuts & bolts of such a program but have been repeatedly pointed to studies of other municipalities." There is no indication that the Mayor acted on this recommendation from his commission.

How might we extract ourselves from this indecision? Perhaps we make take our cue from the students at Western who developed a resolution in which the situation is clearly stated (the findings) and is followed by the suggested remedies (statements of resolve). You can read the student resolution by clicking here.

The Zonemaven maintains that there need not be an draft ordinance and he provides the following suggestions for inclusion in a licensing program. One might simply take a successful, existing ordinance from, let us say, Pasco, WA (Click here to read the 2 page Pasco rental licensing and inspection ordinance) and hang some Bellingham ornaments on it, to wit:

1. An inspection program run by the city that is funded by the landlords as a group through licensing rentals as a business.
2. Inspections at least every 3 years as allowed by law.
3. Meaningful fines for scofflaw landlords.
4. Exclusion of property owners who rent out a room in their own home.
5. Inclusion of unattached ADUs, carriage houses, duplexes, triplexes and all apartment buildings unless they fall under an inspection regime by HUD or some other entity.
6. Language that would help landlords get insurance reductions for being certified by the city inspector.
7. Language that could help landlords deal with the inevitable bad renter. This is a two way street.
8. If any self-certification is considered, that it be proposed only for the several years between actual inspections by the city.
9. Less frequent inspections for rentals that consistently score high in the inspection ratings.
10. Inspection of only X percent of units in an apartment complex of X size.

It is almost 7 years since a licensing and inspection ordinance was discussed at the Bellingham ferry terminal. (Click here to review that event). We had a teachable moment with the fire on Grant St. Thankfully, nobody died for us to learn the lesson but we ought to have received the message about the condition of rentals. Now is the time for action.


Anonymous said...

Until you have had dealings with the forces whose real estate and rental profiteering make them oblivious to public concerns,you will not realize the depth of Bellingham's rental problem.

Scofflaw rental agents and rental owners could not care less for the citizenry the districts the renters or any rule that might interefere with their uncontrolled activity

Single family owners should promote rental licensing before the matter goes from bad to worse

Tell council people and the mayor to save our city

David said...

The lack of follow-through by the Mayor might give the Neighborhood Advisory Council the message that Rental Licensing is not supported by his administration and/or that their advice is not really wanted by him. The preliminary outline of an ordinance for the Advisory Council to examine and debate does not seem like a lot to ask for neighborhood reps who give of their time to come to a meeting at the mayors request for the ostensible purpose of giving their advice to him. It is understandable that Neighborhood reps might hesitate until they know what they are being asked to consider. On the other hand, the reps need to know that they are being asked for support, not blanket approval of any rental licensing act.

Zonemaven said...

Well said by both of you. I know that the Mayor's support is not there. You may want to read my letter to him after the 24 May 10 City Council meeting in which I took him to task for obfuscation. Go to:

dan said...


Just following up per the discussion on your last blog post.

Again I speculate you DO have support from most of MNAC. You have been to our meetings to hear the discussion for yourself.

A draft outline of a rental licensing program would not be too much to stated above.

That is exactly what we voted on and asked for last march.

"P. McKee motion - Move that the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission
recommend to Mayor Dan Pike that a rental housing licensing and inspection Ordinance
be drawn up for review and discussion in 2010 in a public process / Second / Discussion
/ 11 approved / 4 opposed / 1 abstained / Motion Carries"

If you do not have the support of the mayor then please find the avenue through which this draft can be developed.

dan welch
birchwood rep. MNAC

Zonemaven said...

It has to come from the City Council then as a request to draft one. This would probably be done by Mark Gardner, the Legislative Policy Analyst to the Council It is always easier to have the Mayor on board, however, that does not appear to be the case.