Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Off-Campus Rentals & Student Life Survey

Heather Rees, a student at Western Washington University, recently published the results of a survey she created and conducted on student experiences with rentals, living off-campus, safety, parties and community resources.  You can read the entire document, entitled Off-Campus Student Life Survey by clicking here.

For the purpose of this blog entry, I will confine my comments to that part of the survey in which you will find student experiences with rental housing - more specifically health and safety problems.  Almost 10,000 students at WWU rent on the open market in Bellingham where there exists 17,000 +/- rental units.  The survey was able to capture data from 1,024 students among 3, 571 who received an email solicitation to participate.  That is a response rate of 29%.  The 1024 responses also represent about 10% of all students living off campus.  These are hefty percentages in survey land.

The disturbing factor with respect to these rentals is the percentage of tenants who report health and safety violations in their dwelling unit.  To a great degree the results of the Rees survey support the findings of another student survey done in 2011 by the Viking Community Builders and the Western Democrats.  You can read my blog entry on that survey by clicking here and following the imbedded links.  Click on the image at left for a chart of results of the 2011 survey and compare it with a similar chart taken from the Rees project also pictured on the left below.

Extrapolating from the percentages of health and safety problems found in the Rees survey and applying them to the number of rental units in Bellingham, one can calculate that nearly 11,000 of the city's rental units (17,000 X 65%)  may not yet have the required carbon monoxide alarms.   One might expect to find 5,000 units with mold; 4,400 with inadequate heating; 3,400 with vermin, 3,000 with deficient or dangerous electrical components; and about 1,600 with inadequate or simply no hot water at all.

Ms. Rees is not the only student who is taking action on the poor state of rentals in Bellingham.  The Associated Students (AS) of WWU has been active in getting students to attend the Planning Committee meetings during which rental health and safety is the topic of discussion.  With the urging of AS, student leaders and renters have been speaking during the public comment period at city council meetings.  Student Rachel Cochran, the coordinator of the AS Legal Information Center, has created a Facebook page entitled the Legal Information Center (click here to see that site). The Center provides student renters with advice on renting and direction for obtaining legal advice.

Reading the two studies I mentioned above will provide the WWU administration, the Mayor and the  City Council not only with information on the state of our rentals (health and safety) but a student's perspective on the lack of information about their own rights.  There is also the exploitation by landlords of that lack of knowledge.  Some then line their pockets by not performing maintenance, by refusal to return security deposits, and by threatening to "black list" students who are vocal in their complaints.

As the Planning Committee of the City Council continues its discussion of licensing rentals and inspecting them for health and safety issues, you can voice your support for legislation that will improve the condition of Bellingham's rental stock.  This has to be done soon and before a renter is killed.  We have dodged several bullets in that regard over the past two years during which five rentals burned.  To refresh your memory you can read about those five fires by clicking here.

Write to the Mayor at:   Write to City Council members at  Landlords have acted with nearly absolute immunity for decades.  It is now time to level the playing field by demanding accountability from the landlords and sanctions if they fail to maintain their rental units. 


Anonymous said...

Why burden council with dull stuff like cleaning up Bellingham's rental cesspool when one could be having fun throwing away money on aborted traffic spy cameras while pleading inadequate funding to attack our town's rental problems.

By the way, talking about funding for rental inspectors, money shortage claims are just rhetoric when you allow that licensing fees can cover the costs of licensing inspections .
Seems that traffic camera losses would have covered a slice of rental control expenditures anyway had council had a proper focus last year
There's a whole load of figuring to do to find the facts that lead every time to shelving of licensing and zoninmg proposals

Zonemaven said...

Yes,the program will be self-supporting through the fees paid to the city by the landlords. The mayor is concerned that we do not have the money available this year to work on setting up a program since the council and the mayor have already set the priorities for 2013 and health and safety of renters was not a priority. There are funds that could be borrowed to fund the start-up costs. For instance the Museum Department uses $1.5million a year from the general fund. You get my drift?

jonny manson said...

Well worded, Extremely helpful article
Thanks a lot for posting such great information.

USC Student Housing off Campus