Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Unconscionable State of Our Rentals - Part II

Failed Rental in York Neighborhood - Conditions Existed in 2011

[This article first appeared at NWCitizen

At the 18 January meeting of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission, Bellingham Planning Director Rick Sepler provided some preliminary figures relating to the rental inspections now drawing to a close in the York Neighborhood. Of 575 units, he reported that 512 had been inspected and 448 had passed - a whopping 87%. But these figures are misleading since there are no data for the number of units that failed the first-time inspection. Without these numbers, we cannot arrive at an accurate picture of the state of our rentals prior to the primary inspection. Second and third inspections serve only to ensure compliance and eventually increase the number of units that no longer have severe deficiencies. The arrow of inspections always points to nearly a 100% pass rate. However, the statistics in the Sehome Neighborhood inspections revealed a 50% failure rate the first time around. It is that figure we are lacking for the York inspections.

In an earlier article, I explained the city’s first attempt to inform the City Council by leaving out the first inspection failure rate.

“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.”

I have asked the city’s planning department for the first round York inspection failure rate, however as of the publication of this article, I have received no further information.

As for the failed rental in the York Neighborhood pictured above, I have included below some photos I took in the interior of the home five years ago. The tenant (since moved) was living there with his wife and their newborn. The place was infested with rats and the landlord blamed the tenants for bringing the rats with them when they moved in. At least that problem seems to have been fixed in the last five years but here is the report of the failed inspection on this rental just a few weeks ago: “several switch and receptacle covers missing in basement 2 - open breaker knockouts in panel 3 - exposed/unprotected wiring in basement 4 - light at rear entrance near parking”. Exactly what I photographed in 2011.

As in my earlier article, here are a few more descriptive elements taken at random from the inspection report log of the city [bolding mine]:

“cover plate on receptacle in laundry room 2 - toilet loose,seal at base 3 - seal at floor near shower 4 - two upstairs windows not sealing out elements, appear to be wrong size 5 - tenants do not have keys to property, unable to lock doors 6 - several loose bricks at chimney above walkway on side of house 7 - provide high contrast address numbers 8” 

 “weather seal exterior doors locks on ground floor Windows 2 - provide ventilation in kitchen 3 - seal vinyl near toilet in bedroom 4 - large fall risk at crawl space access, no guard, no rail, 4’ fall, large opening in floor 5 - cap furnace vent 6 - chimneys deteriorated, mortar joints deteriorated, leaning, located above walkways and venting appliances 7 - lighting at rear porch 8 - guard at front steps 9 - porch guard loose”

 “provide locks on ground floor Windows (two Windows) 2 - guard at rear basement entry 3 - provide knob at laundry door 4 - basement access from kitchen area: access stairs too steep, fall risk at >30”, water lines exposed, no handrail/guard on one side, handrail loose/ineffective 5 - inadequate combustion air in furnace room 6 - provide smoke/CO alarm in lower level 7 - cover laundry duct terminal”

“window not lockable, kitchen, bathroom and front bedroom 2 - provide non-porous surface behind kitchen sink 3 - large openings to foundation, openings in structure to inside of dwelling 4 - evidence of rodent activity around property, in openings to crawlspace 5 - garbage accumulated around property and under house”

“light switch in one room hanging from wiring, not mounted 2 - toilet not secured to floor, leaking at base, running constantly (main level) 3 - seal at tub/wall, tub/floor (both levels) 4 - wiring worn through sheathing at water heater, unprotected 5 - open receptacle box near rear of basement 6 - one smoke alarm per bedroom and in hallway in immediate vicinity 7 - one smoke alarm per level 8 - one CO alarm per level 9 - front door knob not secure 10”
“provide high contrast address numbers facing street seal at base of tub where wood trim is exposed to water 2 - seal openings in flooring in upper level bathroom 3 - downstairs bedroom has exposed wiring in light fixture, missing receptacle plates 4 - downstairs bedroom windows do not meet egress requirements 5 - downstairs toilet not secured to floor, not sealed at base 6 - no trap at clothes washer standpipe 7 - open plumbing under bench in laundry area 8 - open knockouts in breaker panel 9 - unterminated/unprotected/exposed wiring near panel 10 - broken light fixtures with exposed wiring near laundry 11 - no CO alarm in basement 12 - gas appliance mechanical area open to basement bedroom 13 - wiring connections/splices made outside of junction boxes

 “3 window locks on ground level 2 - open junction box near laundry 3 - open junction boxes in basement 4 - basement is specifically disallowed to be a sleeping room 5 - one smoke alarm in upstairs middle room 6 - storm window covering one sleeping room egress window 7 - dryer ducts vent cover 8 - guard at front steps broken”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Uconscionable State of Our Rentals

 [Note:  This article first appeared in NWCitizen.]

The statistics from the first round of rental inspections in Bellingham were quite sobering, a 50% failure rate upon first inspection of rental units in the Sehome neighborhood. That is pretty bad and now the inspectors have moved on to the York neighborhood where more than 50% of the single family housing stock has been transformed into rentals. The city has released no statistics on the present round of rental inspections but the planning department did provide a 166 page document that lists all the inspections to date with descriptions of the violations found. Some are enough to gag a rat while others would give sleepless nights to parents of the predominantly student renters.

All this as the background echo of the real estate industry and the landlords false claims of “a few bad apples” reverberate in City Council chambers. One is forced to ask upon reading these violations, “Who are these landlords and just what are they thinking?” How can such obvious neglect be countenanced by a human being? The registration and inspection ordinance was passed about two years ago. Did these landlords ever give a thought to starting repairs? Or were they endangering their tenants by cynically waiting for their inspection so they would not over-correct violations and spend too much money? 

For your perusal I have culled, from the hundreds of reports, a few of the violation descriptions. You can find more at this link. Here we go: 

“14 days Most items not fixed. Please review list from initial inspection. **list from initial inspection**RB 8/26/2016 1:38:04 PM Upstairs unit. 60 days 1 - ceiling open to attic and roof (attic access hatch missing) 2 - south side bathroom, appears to be water under vinyl flooring 3 - seal openings in vinyl flooring in south side bathroom 4 - weather stripping at rear entrance door missing, open to the elements 5 - one window near rear door open the the elements, gap in frame 6 - floor sheathing outside north side bathroom soft and rotted from past leak, covered with vinyl flooring 7 - southeast bedroom, no operable egress window 8 - northwest corner of house, siding open to foundation 9 - couch on garage roof, garage likely not designed for live loads such as furniture or multiple people 10 - northeast corner of garage, ceiling joists rotted, not supporting roof, risk of collapse under body weight”

“Unprotected wiring above tub 2 - no light at rear entry 3 - provide one smoke alarm per sleeping room and one in immediate vicinity on outside of room, and one per level (mounting brackets present, did not see alarms) 4 - provide one CO alarm per level 5 - large openings in basement, garage/basement doors do not close securely or lock, Windows not secure and several areas open for rodent intrusion 6 - significant water pooling, clothes washer on pallets to keep above water pools 7 - un-terminated wiring near fuse box, unprotected wiring hanging below floor joists, worn through sheathing in areas 8 – switch hanging from wiring near chimney 9 - large opening in chimney in basement, gas room heater vented through chimney 10 - guard and handrail at basement steps 11 - clothes dryer not hooked up to vent 12 - dead bolt at rear entrance inoperable, knob lock only held in place by striker plate, door jamb compromised”

“Sewage leaking throughout basement in storage room and lower level bedrooms 2 - proof of adequate sanitation and mitigation of affected areas from specialty cleaning agency (basement storage area and lower level bedrooms) 3 - tenants should not be exposed to areas affected by sewage leak until properly sanitized 4 - inadequate ventilation in upstairs bathroom, walls are cracked and soft to touch 5 - upstairs bedroom windows not operable. Do not open far enough for egress, not weatherproof, do not close completely 6 - missing smoke alarm in upstairs bedroom 7 - missing smoke alarm in upstairs hallway 8 - CO alarms required on each level 9 - main level bath walls and ceiling cracked and soft to touch, inadequate ventilation 10 - storm windows over sleeping room windows do not meet egress window requirements”

“Significant rotting at rear deck. Deck boards, joists, rim and beam soft and crumbling provide smoke/CO alarms in missing locations 2 - evidence of closet being used as a sleeping room (bed, clothing, personal items) 3 - protect wiring at water heater 4 - missing junction box covers in basement.”

“Several large openings exist in structure. Repairs were attempted but not made in a workmanlike manner. Home not sealed to weather and rodents. Evidence of rodent intrusion still present in home. Provide rodent mitigation and seal structure.” “room in basement closest to furnace, large openings in walls and ceilings, with exposed framing and insulation 2 - basement room near exterior door, light fixture hanging from wiring in ceiling 3 - no trap, no air gap in clothes washer standpipe 4 - downstairs tenant reports strong sewer gas smell near bathroom 4 - large opening in basement bath ceiling, unprotected wiring and open to framing 5 - basement toilet not sealed at base, installed on blocks on uneven floor 6 - unprotected wiring at water heater, wiring insulation frayed and worn. Replace wiring and protect with conduit 7 - one smoke alarm per sleeping room and in hallway in immediate vicinity of sleeping rooms required 8 - one CO alarm per level require 9 - upstairs room to left of stairway, exposed/unprotected wiring at light switch 10 - upstairs room to right of stairway, light fixture hanging from wiring, exposed wiring 11 - leak in ceiling by range, gets wet when it rains 12 - exterior light under rear porch broken, exposed wiring 13 - chimney leaning, mortar joints deteriorated, gas appliances venting through chimney 14 - basement window near side stairway broken, exposed glass.”

This article will be updated as the city provides the statistical breakdown of inspection pass/fails.