Thursday, March 6, 2014

Associated Students of WWU Publish Second Resolution on Rental Health and Safety

For the second time in the last several years, the Associated Students of Western Washington University has published a resolution on rental safety.  The first resolution was in 2010.   You can read that resolution in my blog entry of June 4, 2010 entitled "Associated Students of WWU Publish Resolution to Support Rental Licensing" (click here).  That blog entry also speaks to the many articles and editorials on rental health and safety that have appeared in the student newspaper, the Western Front.

Here is the latest resolution:

"A Resolution Regarding Rental Safety

February 2014

WHEREAS, the majority of Western Washington University students rent housing in the City of Bellingham; and,

WHEREAS, tenants entering into a lease with a landlord should have a reasonable expectation of safety, housing code compliance, and landlord-tenant communication; and,

WHEREAS, the lack of accountability for rental property owners in the City of Bellingham has allowed for landlords to operate outside of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act; and,

WHEREAS, Western Washington University students are being harmed by living in substandard rental housing in violation of housing codes and health and safety standards as established in Chapter 59.18 RCW Residential Landlord-Tenant Act; and,

WHEREAS, health and safety laws are only effective if enforced, and the complaint based system is inadequately enforced and places an undue burden on tenants to take action in order to live in safe housing; and,

WHEREAS, enforcement of housing standards will remove delinquent landlords from the market so that compliant landlords will have more fair competition; and,

WHEREAS, existing codes and laws are not written in a way that is accessible to lay people; therefore

BE IT RESOLVED, building and fire codes must be made more accessible in order for tenants to identify violations and seek appropriate remedies; and,   

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED, all relevant codes and laws should be enforced or else reformed to increase landlord and tenant accountability; and,

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED, all relevant codes and laws should be provided to tenants before signing their contract; and,

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED, the students of Western Washington University request that the City of Bellingham implement a landlord registration process to monitor who is renting and enforce rental inspections for code violators in order to increase landlord accountability; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, the Associated Students is dedicated to ensuring that safe housing is available to all tenants and are eager to work with the City of Bellingham to find tangible solutions towards positive change."

The young men and women who wrote this represent a student body that is  largely renters.  Many on the staff and board of Associated Students are also renters themselves.  Over the years, rental health and safety has been scoffed at as a non-existent problem or, at worst, a problem of a few "bad apples" even though time and time again we are hearing from these students that there is a large and severe problem that is not being addressed.   

On their own students commissioned several surveys that confirm exactly their complaints and demonstrate a hidden and widespread problem with health and safety issues within Bellingham's rental market.  Lest we forget about these surveys, it may be useful to reread them here and here.  These studies confirm health and safety issues within 15% to 40% of our rental market depending on the category of safety violation.  Based on the overall number of rental units, 17,000 or more,  we can expect that between 2,500 and 6,800 of these units present a danger to the occupants unless remedial action is taken.

The only way to root out these problem units is a strong rental licensing and inspection program that is organized and carried out by city inspectors at regular intervals such as once every three years. Futzing about by depending on complaints will get us exactly where we have been on this issue over the last decade - nowhere.


eJames3 said...

Can't imagine why regulations affecting the health and safety of Bellingham renters are not being properly enforced. Failure to protect renters (students and otherwise) constitutes civic malfeasance. Must there be death or a lawsuit before action is taken? Why are the students forced to accept this? Who is blocking appropriate remedies?

Zonemaven said...

The principal opponents of any type of regulation of the rentals in this town have been the Realtors and the Northwest Rental Owners Association. That combined with the former mayor and a few people on the city council (several of whom just left) was enough to block action or to put the brakes on any momentum over the last several years.

Enforcement of current codes is done on a complaint only basis which has been shown to be useless in policing rentals for health and safety violations. Council member Jack Weiss is spearheading action on this issue with the council and the mayor. It remains to be seen what will emerge in the coming months since the Mayor presented a proposal through her Director of Planning at a council meeting weeks ago.