Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WWU Student Interest in Rental Licensing Not Flagging

Rental licensing and inspection remains a topic of substantial interest at Western Washington University where over 8,000 students plunge into Bellingham's rental market each year. This mass of renters vie with local residents for the estimated 17,000 to 18,000 rental units within the city limits. The closer to campus, the better and the less expensive, the better. That sets up a dynamic akin to a game of musical chairs but with financial implications as this demand tends to drive up prices and create an atmosphere conducive to poor conditions.

With the recent publication of a survey on rental conditions by the Viking Community Builders and Neighbors for Safe Rentals, Western Front student journalist Emma Chadband reviewed the findings and wrote an article, Rentals Get Poor Marks in Tenant Survey, that appeared on April 19th. The article is available by clicking on the image at left.

The appearance of the article is timely in that this is the season during which most of the students are seeking housing off-campus for the next academic year. Perhaps, in some small way, the information on rental conditions will spur some students and their parents to ask hard questions about the condition of these rentals. In the long run, the most effective mechanism to ensure that rentals are safe is to have a mandatory licensing and inspection ordinance.

You can read more about the rental survey itself by reading my previous blog entry entitled Survey on Rental Conditions - "Bellingham, we have a problem". (Click here)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Survey on Rental Conditions - "Bellingham, We Have a Problem."

"The percentage of responses indicating serious health and safety issues was disturbingly high" in some categories that described conditions in Bellingham's rental stock, according to a survey summary released this week by the Viking Community Builders (VCB) of Western Washington University*. The six month long survey; conducted by the VCB in coordination with Neighbors for Safe Rentals (NSR), a community group; ended in early April 2011. The purpose was "to determine the extent to which rental conditions...might indicate the necessity for a rental licensing and inspection ordinance." Over 500 renters took the survey and hundreds provided written comments. [You can read the executive summary of the survey by clicking here. The detailed responses to each survey question can be read by clicking here.]

Among other items, the survey asked the renters to respond to 10 questions regarding the condition of their rentals. The health and safety categories were: electrical, fire, security, plumbing, mold, heating, structure, refuse, vermin and surfaces. The following table provides the data on these categories.

Summary Table

Type of Health or Safety Problem

% of Issues Reported to Owner But Not Resolved

% of Issues Not Reported to Owner

Combined % of Renters

Noting a Problem





Fire Safety




































The combined total at the column to the right represents the totality of the specific problem whether the problem was reported and not acted upon or not reported at all. In either case, the health safety issue was not addressed. A comprehensive licensing and inspection program would discover and correct these potentially dangerous conditions. Additionally, there are those health and safety issues that are not recognized by either the renter or the landlord which suggests that the percentage of these problems may be even higher each category.

The fact that 64% of renters,who responded to the survey were satisfied with their rental indicates that the respondents were not taking the survey merely because they had a bad experience. Nonetheless, 28% did state that their landlord/property manager was ineffective in responding to complaints and 28% said that their landlord/property manager was simply unresponsive. Not surprisingly, a majority (65%) of those responding were students renters who number in excess of 8,000 per year in a market of over 17,000 rental units.

Hundreds of written comments on rentals were made in three categories:

1. Comments on Rentals (Click here to read these comments)

2. Comments on Not Reporting Issues (Click here to read these comments)

3. Comments on the Cost of Renting (Click here to read these comments)

The executive summary provides the following conclusion:

"Results from the rental survey suggest that many buildings would have failed inspection at the time of the survey. Many of these code violations represent an immediate threat to health or safety. Given the low number of official complaints that are made to the city, this survey indicates a substantial void between existing problems and reported problems. A “complaint based system”, as exists now, is not a solution that will bring the deficiencies into the open. Rental housing stock needs oversight and enforcement to correct substandard housing and to motivate unresponsive landlords and rental management companies to make repairs."

*Additional assistance in publicizing the survey was provided by the student club, Western Democrats of Western Washington University.