Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rental Inspections - Pasco Did It With One Inspector

Over a decade ago, Pasco, WA decided to license and inspect its 6,000 rental units. One inspector, doing 8-10 inspections per day, completed the first inspection cycle in two years. He used the checklist pictured at left (click on the image to enlarge it). Not all units were inspected. Those rentals that fell under other inspection regimes, such as with HUD (Housing and Urban Development) or with state certified inspectors, were taken off the list. Only a sample percentage of apartment complex rental units were inspected. This also reduced the number of city inspections.

Bellingham has about 17,000 rental units. Using a methodology similar to that used in Pasco, two inspectors in Bellingham would be able to complete an initial inspection cycle easily in 3 years. This coincides with the restrictions placed on the frequency of inspection by the 2010 Washington State legislation on rental licensing, i.e., once every three years. (Click here to read Bill 6459)

So the horror stories from the landlords regarding the cost of a program to the city appear unfounded. In my recent exchange with the governmental affairs director of the Whatcom County Association of Realtors®, he claimed that, in talks with city officials here, they projected the program would need 5 or more inspectors and that they would only be able to perform several inspections per day - each. This is not born out by the Pasco experience. That is why I have continued to implore the city council to bring Mr. Mitch Nickolds, Pasco's code enforcement officer, to Bellingham to present the facts about initiating a licensing and inspection program for rentals. Instead our city executive opposes licensing and inspections and creates a poster child in the form of Auburn, WA; a city that licensed rentals but never instituted an inspection program.

In a recent conversation with Mitch Nickolds, I mentioned to him the contention by our mayor that Pasco is not a good example of licensing and inspection since there is such a large migrant worker population in Pasco vs. Bellingham. (My answer to the mayor here has been that we have our own migrant population in the form of students, more than 8,000 of whom pass through here on a yearly basis seeking housing.) Mr. Nickolds said that although they found substantial life threatening problems in the migrant worker rental housing, they also were surprised by the very serious problems found within the units occupied by the elderly. One can conclude that the migratory nature of the rental population is not the sole determinant of poor rental conditions as our mayor would have us accept. Indeed, more stable groups, such as the elderly, lend themselves to exploitation and poor housing conditions. One can add to this mixture the fact that during the second round of inspections two years later, Pasco found serious deterioration in many previously inspected units. This, after only two years.

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