Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rental Inspection Story Behind the State Street Fire, 10 May

Yesterday morning around 5 o'clock, a fire destroyed a good portion of a restaurant in the Daylight Building on N. State Street in Bellingham. (Click here to read the Herald article and here for some video of the fire.) The blaze was essentially confined to the restaurant, however, some businesses and residential apartment units had some smoke damage. Among those fleeing the building was Western Washington University student, Nicole Hicks. Nicole lives in an upper floor apartment that she rents with several other Western women.

Just a few months ago, Nicole presented before the city council an account of an emergency safety problem in her apartment. (You can view Nicole's comments by clicking here and going to minute 11:29 on the video) She was there to urge the council to pass an ordinance mandating health and safety inspections of rentals. She described her apartment in the very same Daylight Building whose MAIN access was via a fire escape in the alley behind the building. The sole window in her room only opened a mere 6 inches. The only other "FIRE EXIT" was by a ladder in one of the bedrooms that gave access to a skylight that when opened allowed the residents to climb yet another ladder leading to the roof. It is there, on the roof, that these young renters would have to take refuge during a fire that blocked the "main" entrance. A recipe for disaster for we all know that fire tends to burn upward.

The irony of this situation is that just after Nicole spoke to the city council in support of licensing and inspecting rentals, the manager of Daylight Properties, Mr. Kane Hall, told the council, in a curiously incoherent and rambling plea for more crime fighting in the downtown area, that landlord licensing and inspection was not needed to fight crime or to do anything else for that matter. Licensing was an unnecessary burden that would create an out-of-control bureaucracy, said Mr. Hall. The connection between rental licensing and decreasing crime in the downtown area was not apparent. (Click here to listen to Mr. Hall before the city council at minute marker 30:30.)

Yet the very property (the Daylight Building) that he manages and offers to renters has a unit that has no viable emergency exit. Before the council, Mr. Hall called for fines for those who do not manage their properties responsibly. The Zonemaven hears Mr. Hall's plea and agrees wholeheartedly. Perhaps those fines might be levied on those who rent units without proper emergency exits.

Luckily for Nicole and her roommates yesterday , the MAIN ENTRANCE, i.e., fire escape, was not blocked by the fire, however, the outcome might not have been such. Not surprisingly, Nicole is now, more than ever, apprehensive about living in that rental unit. Moreover, this was the second fire at the Daylight Building in the last several months. The earlier fire was in a recycling bin near the mailboxes at the principal entrance to the upper floors of the building that, luckily again, was extinguished before any lives were lost.

I call on our Fire Chief, Bill Boyd, to take a closer look at the Daylight Building. We have had several reprieves with respect to fires in rentals this year, notably in the York Neighborhood. (Click here to refresh your memories) How much closer to a tragedy do we have to get for there to be action on licensing and inspecting rentals?


Linda Pieczynski said...

This is a good example of why college towns need rental inspections. Landlords take advantage of young people who aren't savvy as to what dangers lurk in these apartments. When my daughters were in college, I was constantly in battle with the landlords over safety issues. If the local fire marshal won't do anything, perhaps the State Fire Marshal might want to look into the exit situation at that building. Keep fighting for what's right. You may save a life.

Zonemaven said...

I have been contacted by the Fire Chief here and he has asked his Fire Marshall to investigate.