Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rats! It Is Rats Galore with No Rental Inspections

John and his wife, Amy, (not their real names)moved into their small York rental home in December 2010. John, an Iraq veteran, works in a local supermarket minutes away from his rental. Shortly after they moved in, Amy gave birth to their son. Nobody told them that the rats were already in the home, a place where their newborn would eat and sleep. They discovered the rats after being in the house for a few months. Rat droppings in the basement. The odor of rat feces as the heating system was turned on. The noise of rats scurrying inside the walls. The threat of Hantavirus or other maladies should they even attempt to clean up the rat droppings.

Repeated contact with the landlord provided no relief. The landlord blamed the tenants, saying that they had brought the rodents with them when they moved. A look at neighboring properties suggests that the rats have been there long before the renters moved in. With an intransigent landlord, the couple had no choice but to move out. Not being able to find affordable housing in town, the couple now lives on the city's outskirts in a trailer home and John has become a commuter.

To add insult to injury, the landlord, who owns about 5 other rentals in Bellingham, demanded (as a condition for the return of the couple's security deposit of nearly $1,000) that they sign a waiver, absolving the landlord of responsibility for the rats. Having no short term recourse, they were forced to sign to get their deposit back.

Let us take a tour of the home:

Rat droppings at the basement level click here, here, here and here.

Rat entry points - click here and here.

Rats' hideout at abutting neighbor's tool shed - click here, here and here.

Lest we overlook them, there are other problems in the home. Take a look.

Unsafe electrical outlets and wiring - click here, here, here and here.

Sewer drain pipe supported only by cloth band. Click here.

Rotted siding. Click here.

And to feed the rats, there are trash heaps such as this one a few doors away. Click here.

This is yet another sad example of the conditions of rental housing in Bellingham. It also points out the problems inherent in a system in which the government has opted out of the business of safety and health, allowing tenants and landlords to sort it out on their own with the obvious downside for the tenant who has little leverage, little spare time and usually less money to spend on a civil court action. Since the council recently defeated even a most minimal effort to license rentals and hold landlords accountable for conditions, it will be a while before our renters will be able to count on safe housing in this city.


David Camp said...

Shock! Horror! Yucky rats!

And not one mention of the legal recourses available to the tenants under existing bylaws - which apparently they did not use. The city has public health officers who could have been called, and who have the right to inspect and sanction the owner, up to condemnation of the building.

Rather than hyperventilating about this to advance your pet project to create yet another intrusive government entity with unconstitutional authority, why not help these people know their rights and obtain help for them from the City?

It seems to me your approach is rather cynical and definitely unhelpful to the victims, who were exploited first by a bad landlord and then by someone advancing a political agenda.

Zonemaven said...

Well, Mr. Camp, I did advise the renters to do just what you suggested, contact the authorities, but they balked for fear of being thrown out of their rental by the landlord and then blacklisted by a bad reference. Given the landlord's action at the end, regarding the security deposit, the renters probably had good instincts. I worked with the tenants for over 4 months before writing this story. In the future, you may want to save the lectures on how to provide assistance to exploited renters.