Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mayor's Rental Registration Proposal Sent to City Council

At the 16 April meeting of the Mayor's Neighborhood Advisory Commission the Director of Planning, Jeff Thomas, reviewed the mayor's framework for a rental registration program that I had addressed in a previous blog entry last week.   The framework presented was a modification of a proposal made to the city council earlier in the year

Today, the updated proposal from the mayor , consisting of a memo outlining the framework and a draft ordinance, was posted on the city council website.  You can access the documents here.  The agenda item will be considered by the Planning Committee this coming Monday, 21 April at 10:30am in city council chambers. Normally, this consists of a presentation to the committee members of the proposal by the mayor and her staff.  Public comments are not usually heard at this time, however, the committee chair may invite members of the public to speak.  This is only the first in a number of meetings that are possible as the Planning Committee debates the measure and reports its discussions to the full council. 

As I had warned, the framework speaks to a weak inspection program.  In fact, upon registration, rental owners will only have to self-certify, in an un-sworn declaration, that their units meet basic safety and health standards.  In turn, the city will require an "audit", that is an actual inspection each year of randomly chosen units.  The sample will be painfully small, a meager .5% (one-half percent) of the total number of rental units in Bellingham now pegged at approximately 13,000 units. Do the math. That is 65 units to be inspected annually to ensure compliance.  Based on the experience (percentage of failed units) of other cities with inspection programs of all units, we can reasonably project that MINIMALLY 1,500 - 2,000 of Bellingham's rentals are sub-standard and a danger to the occupants.  That translates into health and safety dangers for nearly 5,000-6,000 tenants based on the average occupancy of a dwelling unit in the city.  Consequently, the proposal is to attempt to remedy that dangerous situation for thousands of renters by looking at a mere 65 units per year.  In a few decades, the city will have hit them all.

Stay tuned.  I will be providing further analysis of this proposed ordinance and program.   In the meantime, attend the Planning Committee meeting next Monday or watch the proceedings on BTV10.  You can also write your concerns to the city council at and to the mayor at


Abe Jacobson said...

I recently heard a new argument against rental inspections: A stricter regime will kill the rental stock, and rental prices will skyrocket, thereby hurting students and other renters on limited incomes.

Coming from a progressive friend of mine, this argument ironically is close to that of "free-market" purists who argue that raising the minimum wage will hurt workers, by reducing job availability due to the increased cost of providing employment.

My friend believes that there is a huge number of Bellingham rentals which will disappear if there is any tightening of today's nonexistent standards.


Abe Jacobson

Abe Jacobson said...

Why do you think that the Mayor and the Council have been so opposed to inspections and licensing?

I know that there is a strong current of passivity in the NW corner, a faith that things will work themselves out on their own, but it's not clear to me why consummate political animals would conclude that continued passivity is in their political self-interest.

Abe Jacobson

Zonemaven said...


I am appalled when I hear a defense of institutionalized squalor from so-called progressives. There is also no requirement for landlords to pass through the cost of inspections. Landlords get all so teary-eyed over having to raise rents for their poor and suffering tenants when so many owners haven't done a lick of maintenance in decades, pocketing the money and running the property into the ground. The experience in Pasco 15 years ago was that there were some landlords that quit the business but that these units were sold as fixer-uppers to young families thus providing home ownership for those who used to be regularly gouged by high rentals.

Zonemaven said...

Abe (on second question)

I have some personal notions about the motivations of our elected officials but they are irrelevant to the discussion at the moment. I would preserve these notions for the next election period.