Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Four Years of Western Front Editorials and Still No Action on Rental Health and Safety

For the fourth year in a row, the editorial board of the student run newspaper, the Western Front, has called on the city government to ensure the safety and health of the renters in Bellingham.  You can read about the three previous editorials by clicking here, here and here.

The most recent editorial is dated 5 Nov and entitled "In Support of the Tenant Rights Advocacy Proposal".   (Click here to read that piece.) The editorial states in part, "This proposal targets the Bellingham City Council and mayor, who have failed to pass any ordinances regarding licensing and inspection, increasing renter safety while staying consistent with state law. Bellingham, Wash., tenants continue to be subject to the state’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973."

Unfortunately, there is as yet no concrete proposal.  In an email exchange with Western student Theo Bikel, who is working on the proposal, I learned that we are likely to see the document early next week (25 Nov).   We do know from the editorial that the students are seeking redress not only for poor rental conditions that are a danger to health and safety but also for redress for mistreatment by landlords over such issues as un-returned security deposits, un-reimbursed repairs and overall unresponsiveness.   The former problems come under the toothless Residential Landlord-Tenant Act which gives the tenant a right to legal avenues that are, to a great extent, mostly unworkable and unaffordable.  For the past 50 years or more the landlords have had the upper hand.  It is time to establish a just equity.


Abe Jacobson said...

Thanks for your work on this issue.

Students are not the only people in Bellingham living in squalid and/or unsafe rental housing. It is a problem of much of the entire rental-housing stock.

During the Autumn, my wife and I spent scores of hours doorbelling for a political campaign. Not only does this provide pretty good exercise, but it's a chance to see parts of Bellingham that one might ordinarily be unaware of.

Our overwhelming impression is that there are far too many un-maintained and unsafe rental dwellings. Examples of unsafe features include:
(a) Rickety second-floor (and higher) railings that could collapse under force.
(b) Outdoor stairways prone to ice-up and with rotting steps.
(c) Obstructions at head height for people accessing their doorway.
(d) Dark and poorly-lit entryways that fairly beg for problems.
(e) Non-compliant electrical.

Abe Jacobson

Zonemaven said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment and adding your personal experience with the rental stock. Yes, students comprise a fraction of all renters in Bellingham but a susbstantial fraction with 8-10,000 living off-campus. They are, by virtue of being students, the largest block of tenants who are represented by an elected body, the board of the Associated Students. These elected officers are fighting on behalf of their fellow students to ensure they do not have to live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.

Camille Hackler said...

I am the father of a western student. My son recently had some items stolen. We found that the landlord didn't buy new locks. Any advice?

Zonemaven said...

Were Bellingham to have a rental inspection program, rentals with non-existent or inadequate locks would be forced to provide adequately secured doors and windows. In this case, you suggest that the landlord kept the rental's locks and keys the same after the last tenant moved out thus providing an opening for a former tenant or an acquaintance of the tenant to use a duplicate key.

There is no Bellingham ordinance that would cover this situation. Your only recourse at the present is to complain to the landlord. I assume you have made a police report. If so, you can attach that report to a demand for the landlord to replace or rekey the locks.