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”