Thursday, October 23, 2014

York Neighborhood Supports Rental Registration AND Inspections

The York Neighborhood has just sent (see below) a second letter this year to the City Council in support of a Rental Health and Safety Ordinance in Bellingham.  York joins with other neighborhoods that have already gone on the record with the City Council in support of not only licensing but inspecting all rentals.  You can read the letters of the other neighborhoods that have joined in this call for action by clicking on the name of the neighborhood:  Samish, Fairhaven, Sehome, and WWU (Associated Students). The Roosevelt Neighborhood also voiced support of an ordinance in a statement to the Mayor's Neighborhood Advisory Commission at its July meeting. 

There will be a hearing on this proposal next Monday, evening, October 27th at the 7pm City Council meeting.  You can sign up after 6:30pm to speak in support of adding an inspections component to the draft "registration-only" ordinance to be considered.  Tell the council that a rental registration ordinance only perpetuates the current failed system and that regular inspections are required to protect the 40,000 or more Bellingham citizens who live in rentals. To view the hearing materials click here and then scroll to and click on Agenda item 20382.

Here is the York Neighborhood letter:

October 20, 2014

Dear City Council:

We are writing to urge you to support a Rental Health and Safety Ordinance that will include mandatory inspections of properties. On January 11, 2011, there were two fires in the York Neighborhood – both preventable and both related to poor maintenance by the property owners.

One fire at 1408 Grant St. happened in the middle of the night while the three tenants were sleeping. One of them got up to get something to eat and heard the fire in the attic as a piece of the ceiling fell into the second floor bathroom. Fortunately, all three escaped unharmed. The cause of the fire, as reported by the Fire Marshall Jason Napier,was “electrical failure” and “malfunction” in the electrical junction box in the attic. There were no working smoke alarms in the house.

The second fire happened earlier the same day at 1418 Ellis St. The cause of the fire was a fan that was part of the heating system was not properly bolted on; it fell to the floor and caught the rug on fire. Fire Marshall Jason Napier reported: “The building was rewired by the owner some years ago. None of it was ever inspected for code compliance.”

We do not think these failures in rental property maintenance are an anomaly. We

believe our city has numerous properties that would not pass a basic building safety inspection. Housing safety standards should be enforced through an inspection program, with expert guidance on how to fix problems. Enforcement should include penalties. An inspection “check-list,” such as the one used for Section 8 housing is 1½ pages and is a subset of the building code. It is a fair and reasonable list of basic safety expectations. A “registry” of rental properties does nothing to create better code enforcement.

A complaint-based system does not work. It has failed in Bellingham and other cities. It puts the burden on the tenant to fight one-on-one with the landlord who has an unfair advantage and can retaliate by raising the rent, not giving a good reference, or just ignoring the complaint all together which does happen.

We support “healthy homes” for our city. Half of our city’s housing is rentals and are an essential part of the community’s quality of life. Substandard housing creates hazards for the tenants, neighbors and deteriorates our neighborhoods.

We urge the City Council to proactively regulate the rental industry. Rentals are

businesses, and like other businesses they should be expected to comply with licensing, inspections and oversight. Treating rentals as businesses is a fair practice.

It’s not about loud parties, garbage, and unmowed lawns. Other enforcement tools exist to manage nuisances. No enforcement tools exist to evaluate the internal conditions of Bellingham’s rental housing. It’s about decent housing for all and thriving neighborhoods. Bellingham’s neighborhoods, particularly the older ones, are a patchwork quilt of decaying, neglected properties amongst well-maintained historic housing.

Please vote to support rental licensing with inspections.


Members of the York Neighborhood Association Board

Don Hilty-Jones - President

Mark Schofield - Vice President

Anne Mackie - Secretary

Lisa Anderson - Treasurer

At-Large Board Members: Cory Anderson, Kirsti Charlton, Robb Correll, Tom Scott

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