Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rentals and Meth

Unfit for habitation - rooms red-tagged at the Aloha Motel
The city of Bellingham is learning that renting a place to stay can be extremely dangerous to one's health.  The Aloha and Villa motels on Samish Way now have a total of 17 rooms declared unfit for human habitation due to contamination caused by methamphetamine smokers.  For more information you can read the Bellingham Herald story of 12 October, Tests Show Meth Contamination in 17 Rooms at Two Samish Way Motels.  

It is not too difficult to make the assumption that some of our rental houses and apartments are similarly contaminated.  In late 2013 a rental home on Myrtle St. was closed by the health department when three student renters were made ill by meth contamination.  I wrote about this in my 13 February 2014 blog entry entitled Meth Contaminated Rental Shut Down.

However, meth contamination is but one of many problems renters face in living in leased dwellings in Bellingham.  The Herald article quoted Mayor Linville as saying, "Dangerous public health risks such as meth contamination are unacceptable, no matter where they are in Bellingham."   The fact is that we do have a dangerous public health and safety risk that has been ignored for decades, our uninspected rental housing stock.

Unfortunately for the tens of thousands of renters in Bellingham, the proposed ordinance on rentals that will be considered at a city council hearing on 27 October, has no mandatory inspection provision.   This is a continuation of the current and failed complaint based system.  It is time for the city to begin to "red-tag" the dangerous rental homes and apartment units.

In order for the current proposal to provide any meaningful protection whatsoever for Bellingham's renters it must be modified to include these elements.

 1.  Periodic inspections of all rentals in accordance with the limits established by current RCW.  We should envision an inspection of a rental unit once every three years, exceptions being those units inspected under other government programs.   Inspections of apartment complexes can be made by using a percentage factor that will provide an adequate representation of the condition of the units throughout. 
2.   Hiring of sufficient city inspectors (government employees) to effect the inspections to achieve the periodic rate. 
3.  The fixing of the rental licensing rate as a function of the cost of the program as established, i.e.,  administration, inspections, salaries, equipment, etc.  In other words, the council creates the program which is then costed out and fees established as a function of that amount.  The cost of the periodic inspections would be included in the licensing fee but landlords may be assessed a surcharge for reinspections due to life/safety findings.  [Note:  RCW allows a landlord to hire a private inspector but that should be at his/her own cost.  If so, he/she would forfeit the city conducted inspection that is included in the licensing fee.] 
4.  Annual reports to the council and the public on the results of the inspection regime. 
5.  Elimination of the sunset provision

There is still time before the 27 October hearing to write to your council representatives and insist on an inspection program that is worthwhile and effective.  Write to them now at: ccmail@cob.org.  


Anonymous said...

I am in agreement with the recommended modification to the current proposed ordinance. Without strong legislation to this problem, continued safety and health risks will exist. And all the effort, time and costs will be for not.
Rick Chartrand

Anonymous said...

Excellent description of the issue, which has been discussed at City Hall for nearly two years. It is an issue that the elected officials could not let go of, even if they wanted to.

The elements suggested above were all in earlier versions of draft ordinances; they should be in the final.

The interest group that is directly impacted by this current wild west rental market are the students. The interest group that are the direct beneficiaries from this system are rental owners with many units. They are probably small in number but, as evidenced by this action, politically powerful.

Watching our elected officials deal with this issue looks much like inaction in DC; process simply done at a much larger scale.

Numbers will matter. Show up on the 27th!

Zonemaven said...


Thanks for your continued support on this issue over the years!

Zonemaven said...


Actually the issue first came up back in the early 1990s. I have been pressing for rental licensing and inspection for at least the last five years.

Earlier, more comprehensive versions of this ordinance did contain some of the elements I have suggested. Unfortunately, the council went with the version of Council member Murphy who based her version on a failed ordinance from Tacoma, WA.

In all things, follow the money.