Friday, September 30, 2016

Misleading/Incomplete Report on Rental Inspection Results

Pass/Fail Rate Misrepresented
[Note: This article first appeared at NWCitizen

Before the committee of the whole of the Bellingham City Council on 26 September, the planning director presented a "correction" to the figures on the pass/fail rate of rental units inspected over the previous three months in the Sehome neighborhood.  In fact, the figures presented differed little from previous reports. (see my prior column on these statistics here)  The new figures were 242 passed and 239 failed  with a fail rate of 50%.  [The minor differences from previous figures of 231 and 237 respectively are due to constant updates as new units are inspected each day.] The director's report (see pie chart) goes on to say that after a SECOND inspection, another 142 units passed.  The claim then was that 80% of our rental stock inspected to date passed!  Woohoo!  This is true but terribly misleading since the initial failure rate was 50%.  With the logic of the pie chart pictured above, the passing on a second inspection of the remaining 95 failed units would bring the failure rate for our rental stock to 0% when, in fact, the initial go around was a miserable 50% pass rate demonstrating the true condition of the rental units before any inspections whatsoever. This wretched failure rate should bring a collective gasp of dumbfoundedness to the city of Bellingham.

This leads us to the incomplete.

Even more alarming was that there was no specification that 310 rental units (35%) of the 880 units in Sehome are being inspected by private inspectors.  The use of private inspectors is allowed by state law, however, at the moment there appears to be no means by which the city can compel the private inspector to turn over the actual inspection sheet.  All the city receives is a "pass" document, attested to by the inspector.  There will be no indication about the number of failed inspections made before the pass attestation is given to the city.  This not only paves the way for shenanigans on the part of the landlord (inspector-landlord collusion) but it also deprives the city and, more importantly, the tenants of vital, detailed information regarding the problems found within the rental units.  [To date there has been no indication of any collusion.]  Nevertheless, the 310 units (35%) in Sehome to be inspected by private inspectors leaves an enormous lacuna in the information on deficiencies available to the city.  Furthermore, the city is finding that landlords using private inspectors tend to be the large management/real estate firms, many of which have checkered histories in dealing with tenants.  This is unacceptable.  The planning director indicated that the city is awaiting a legal case now in Seattle that may clarify the private inspector issue and its consequences.

As the inspections wind down in the Sehome neighborhood, the city will fix its attention next on the York neighborhood with its 575 rental units, a mix of single and mutli-family zoned areas.  54% of York's 479 single family homes are rentals.  In fact, 31 of those individual homes are owned by Dave and Jonathan Hansen.  At total of 27 other single family rentals are owned variously and separately by four landlords.  The number of landlords who will use private inspectors in the York neighborhood remains to be seen but the situation should give any thinking person pause
After the York neighborhood the city will move south to Happy Valley and then finish the south end with South Hill, Fairhaven, Edgemoor and South neighborhoods.  An explanatory map of the inspection zones can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Council is the real villain in the monumental dishonesty of its favoritism towards towards landlords and rental agencies and real estate interests in bellingham.

Council and the city legal boys have, for untold years refused to enforce city rules that could have defended the rights of single family useage
Now council actually show their anti city trends by allowing landlords to avoid facing 'Clean" property inspections by buying private inspections to exempt their liability to face city paid inspectors.

The real estate mafia who pull council strings triumph again by de-toothing attempts to make them answerable to reasonable controls

When if ever will we enjoy a city council devoted to their voters' interests and to the cleansing of the city's environs

Ben Zero said...

Speaking as a landlord who takes immense pride in our relationship with the tenants in our one rental in the York Area, I want to note that some of us are just fine with protecting tenants, maintaining our rental, developing good relations with our neighborhood (I gave our phone number to our homeowner neighbor the day we bought the rental and asked that she call if our tenants every caused problems) and, gasp, being inspected.

Ok, the $100 is a little painful and the shrill voices decrying the partying, parking and noise of unrelated tenants (as if a large family of, say 8 members, with a history of domestic violence isn't a more serious problem) gets a bit tiresome. But, overall, I love being a landlord, I enjoy the 60 or so students who have rented over the many, many years we've owned the house, and we take pains to keep rent below market averages, we maintain the property, we are forgiving if rent is late and we provide good, thoughtful references when they move. So please lighten up on occasion.

Zonemaven said...

My apologies to Ben Zero for approving this comment so late but I was travelling at the time and did not review comments until just this week.

The big difference between a family household of 8 members and 8 unrelated is that the family household of that size is rare indeed while the unrelated group of 8 is prevalent in some neighborhoods resulting in a de facto upzone.

At the right hand column of my blog I quoted from a court decision (Stegeman v. City of Ann Arbor) regarding family definitions. "To say that a family is so equivalent to a ragtag collection of college roommates as to require identical treatment in zoning decisions defies the reality of the place of the family in American society, despite any changes that institution has undergone in recent years. Only the most cynical among us would say that the American family has devolved to the point of no greater importance or consideration in governmental decision making than a group of college roommates."