Friday, June 6, 2014
Rentals and Restaurants - Commonality
Betsy Pernotto is a resident of the Birchwood neighborhood. On May 5th she made the following comments to the city council regarding the inspection of rentals in Bellingham. So often, the spoken comments at our city council meetings become lost in the ether of the video record which cannot be searched easily - or at all - unlike the written record. Here are Betsy's unedited comments, then, for the written record.
"Imagine going to a nice restaurant with friends with plans for enjoying a relaxing dinner. Now imagine how you might feel if you went to that same restaurant and had to wonder if the food was safe to eat because restaurants were only inspected if there was a complaint. Put your mind at rest. In Whatcom County the Health Department inspects restaurants on a yearly basis, not simply on the basis of complaints. Now imagine renting an apartment or house for yourself or your family, assuming that the residence is a safe place to live. Then you discover that some electrical outlets spark when you plug in an appliance and you start to question the safety of the electrical system. Or your child has frequent asthma attacks triggered by the black mold on the wall of her bedroom because of an unrepaired leaking tub. Then you realize that rental housing is not inspected unless there is a complaint. But you have paid first and last month deposits and you are afraid of being evicted if you complain because you have no money to put up for another apartment if you had to move. That is the current system in place in Bellingham.
We require restaurant inspections because food-borne illness can be deadly and we want the public to be safe eating in those business establishments. When we pay for a restaurant meal, we have the expectation that the food will be safe. We deserve to have the same expectation when we pay for rental housing. Safe housing is as much an issue of public health as is safe food in a restaurant. Eating in a restaurant is a choice we make. However, we spend many more hours in our homes than we do eating in a restaurant and the dangers we might face there can be as life-threatening as food-borne illness.
I urge City Council to enact an ordinance requiring registration for all rental units in Bellingham with a small monthly registration fee for each unit. Before a system of inspections begins, the City needs to clarify for landlords the City’s requirements for safe, healthy rental units and needs to educate tenants about their rights. The goal of this ordinance should be a safe and healthy residence for all tenants. To that end, I support a higher inspection rate than offered in the current proposal by the Mayor and her staff. I support the inspection of all rental units (except perhaps those built in the past five years) over a five year period. I also support the creation of a fund to relocate tenants who must move because the unit in which they are living is found to be unsafe. In this way no landlord would feel singled out and every tenant could have the peace of mind of living in a safe home."
For the record. Thanks, Betsy.