Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fire Marshal Declares "Unsafe Conditions" at Daylight Building Rental - Students Displaced

Several WWU students have been displaced as a result of the action of Fire Marshal Jason Napier, who posted a notice of Unsafe Conditions on an apartment in the Daylight Building. The building was the site of a fire last week that destroyed a portion of the inside of a restaurant on the main floor. After the blaze and as a result of questions raised regarding the adequacy of emergency exits in other areas of the building , the Fire Marshal contacted one of the tenants at the Chestnut St. side and discovered that two of the sleeping areas within an apartment had no adequate fire emergency egress. (Click here to read a previous blog entry on the subject)

Two of the five students will have to move and their sleeping areas must remain unoccupied and not rentable until such time as Daylight Properties corrects the violation of the fire codes. Unfortunately, this takes place at a time when the students are approaching the end of the quarter and should be spending their time on theme papers and preparation for exams, not on dealing with unsafe rental conditions. Had the city already had a robust rental licensing and inspection program, we likely would not be talking about this.

[Photo at left of "fire escape" serving as entrance in the Daylight Building. Several bedrooms in the unit in question did not have adequate emergency egress.]

As the City Council considers rental licensing, it may wish to avoid a variation of inspection that would allow for landlords to self-certify, i.e., sign a form that declares that their rental units meet certain standards. The manager of the Daylight Building, Mr. Kane Hall, declared before the council in February, that there was no need for licensing and inspection of rentals. The implication was that the landlords, Mr. Hall included, can take care of their own properties.

That seems not to be the case here as either Mr. Hall was unaware of the dangerous condition in this rental unit or he was aware and rented it nonetheless. If he was not aware, then that calls into question the ability of a landlord to self-certify since, in essence, he had already made an implied certification of rental unit safety in leasing the unit in the first place. If he was aware of the safety issue and rented the unit in spite of that knowledge, that calls into question his motives in placing his renters in danger. In either case, mandatory inspection of rental units would have uncovered this safety issue while self-certification, which depends on knowledge that Mr. Hall appears to lack, would have proven useless.

How many other rentals in Bellingham contain similar problems with lack of egress? Ironically, one of the tenants had already encountered a similar situation while looking for a rental in a prior year. (She described this encounter to the City Council the very same evening as Mr. Hall was railing against licensing and inspection. (Click here to view the video of those comments at the 11:29 mark) Looking for a rental with 5 bedrooms, she and her companions visited a home that, although advertised as having five bedrooms, only had four. When they asked the landlord about the fifth bedroom, he indicated that he would install a plywood partition in the living room.

Yes, these incidents are anecdotal, however, when one considers the life/safety issues found in other cities with rental inspections and the disturbing results of the WWU student-sponsored survey of rentals in Bellingham(Click here to read the survey), there is little room for doubt that a rental licensing and mandatory inspection program is needed - NOW.

Note: Thanks to our Fire Chief, Bill Boyd, and our Fire Marshal, Jason Napier, for their rapid investigation.

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