Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sehome Neighborhood Also Supporting a Rental Health and Safety Ordinance

Earlier this year the Sehome Neighborhood sent a letter to Mayor Linville indicating its support of a rental registration and inspection program.  The Samish Neighborhood recently wrote their own letter of support for such legislation to the city council as I reported on 19 June (click here).   The Sehome letter follows:

January 8, 2013

Ms. Kelli Linville, Mayor
City of Bellingham
210 Lottie St.
Bellingham, WA 98225

Re:  Rental Licensing Issue

Dear Mayor Linville:

The Sehome Neighborhood Board appreciates your acknowledgement of the rental licensing issue.  As I will briefly describe in this letter, we feel that a local ordinance is needed to address a business that is completely unregulated in Bellingham; that is, single family rentals.

The primary beneficiaries of a rental licensing ordinance would be the students of Western Washington University (WWU).   This was described very well in the August 2nd letter from the Associated Students’ Board of WWU.  The following quote from that letter summarizes the issues:  

“Students make Bellingham their home for four or more years, and they should not have to deal with conditions which affect their quality of life in order to obtain an education”, said Stickney. “Students also don’t know their rights as tenants or get labeled as ‘high-maintenance tenants’ if they try to exert them. This issue doesn’t just affect students, but all residents of Bellingham who live in rental houses.” 

A survey of renters was conducted through WWU student Heather Rees (past WWU student representative on the SNA Board) in her internship for Whatcom Family & Community Network, a community group dedicated to promoting public health and safe. It was conducted in partnership with WWU’s Campus Community Coalition.   Some of the more dramatic results were:

28% of the respondents had significant mold issues;
18% had structural problems

This is not the first time the AS Board has taken formal action on this issue.  On June 4, 2010 they passed a resolution that asked the City to proceed in the licensing of single family rentals within the City. Since a high percentage of our neighborhood is student rentals, we feel a responsibility to pursue this issue.
Councilman Weiss presented a draft rental licensing ordinance at SNA’s fall general membership meeting on September 25th. which was received with considerable interest and a useful discussion.  While beginning the process for drafting an ordinance must come from your office, we appreciate the work that Councilman Weiss has done to get it started. From general membership comments at that meeting, the SNA Board has come up with three primary issues on this licensing issue:  

Education – Both renters and landlords need easy access to information about their rights and obligations.
Enforcement - What codes apply and how can we bring properties up to code?
Administration – Shall inspectors be city employees only or may landlords hire private inspectors? How will the inspection process work and who will pay for it?

While rental licensing is a  new issue for Bellingham government, it has been well documented in Washington state.  Pasco has a system in place that has already survived a Supreme Court challenge. On October 1st of last year, the Seattle Council approved legislation that requires anyone who owns rental property to register with the city and to certify that the unit meets city safety and health codes.  They are now setting up the process.

The SNA Board has discussed this issue in our meetings for nearly two years.  We have been hesitant to take formal action until the Mayor’s Office, and Council, have begun a formal process.  We believe it is now time for that action to begin.


Sehome Neighborhood Association Board
Jean Hamilton, President

As I said in my post earlier this week, you can help support the tens of thousands of tenants in Bellingham by writing to the mayor ( and to the city council at (  Tell them that the rental industry is a business and, as such, should be regulated for health and safety issues just as restaurants and hotels.  That means registration and periodic inspections.

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