Thursday, November 13, 2014

City Council Work Session on Rental Registration and Inspections

At the 1pm meeting of the city council's Committee of the Whole this coming Monday (17 Nov), the members will have a work session on the draft ordinance that was the subject of a city council hearing on 27 October.  That hearing lasted nearly three hours during which time dozens of citizens voiced their concern that the draft measure did not contain an inspection component.  After the citizens' comment period, council member Terry Bornemann stated that he had changed his mind and that that he would be supportive of an inspection component.

Although there will be no comment period during the work session next Monday, I encourage all of you to attend the session as an indication of our support of a rental registration AND inspection ordinance.  [Note that the Committee of the Whole will meet earlier at 11am to consider the city budget.  They will reconvene after lunch at 1pm to consider the rental ordinance.]

My most recent letter to the city council follows:

Dear Council Members,

In advance of the work session on rental registration and inspection on 17 November, I would like to suggest the following while you consider development of a program for the city:

There seems to have been a morphing from a per unit fee to a per "property" fee.  I am not sure what occasioned that but it is unnecessarily restrictive.  It weighs favorably on the side of those with the largest properties (for what reason?) and it markedly reduces the potential income to finance the hiring of staff and the administration of a program.  The program with all its facets should be developed and then costed out in order to define the fee structure.  This is basic program management.

I ask also that you challenge the bloated estimates provided by staff months ago on the cost of hiring code enforcement personnel and running the program.  We know that the local HUD inspector can do almost 2,000 unit inspections per year.  This tracks also with Pasco, WA whose inspector also does the same number of inspections per year.  That flies in the face of the estimate given to us by the Planning Director.  Granted there will be some start-up lag but with proper planning, that lag can be minimized.

Any inspection program should be included in the fee structure so that landlords will be encouraged to participate with city inspectors rather than hire private firms. Relying primarily on private inspectors for periodic inspections means that the city neither gains nor retains any institutional knowledge of the city’s rental units. Paper reports from private inspectors are no substitute for the experience of a city inspector whose employment is, for all intents and purposes, long term. The Mayor and the Planning Director would have no group of in-house code enforcement officers to whom they can go for experiential knowledge.  Furthermore, there is no indication that there are sufficient private sector home inspectors to fulfill the needs of the landlords who might want to hire one.

Granted, the use of private inspectors is allowed under law. In fact, this was one of the challenges to the Pasco licensing ordinance, that city inspectors would be the sole inspectors. The landlords there wanted the option to hire their own. They have that option now and is written into the state law passed a few years ago. I am not sure how that serves the landlords since a properly structured program with a revenue neutral fee system (the program fees will pay for the program) will spread the cost of inspections over all landlords and result in much lower per unit inspection costs.

I also suggest that you replace any sunset provision with a provision that mandates a program review after 4 or 5 years.  At that point, the council can, based on the facts surfaced by the review, decide to maintain, modify or end the program.  The review should be inclusive of city staff (based on data), landlord experience and renter experience that would be surface through a hearing and/or a professional random survey.


Dick Conoboy