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Committee Decision about Rental Housing Inspection Program Legislation

Today, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) received direction about the Rental Housing Inspection Program from my Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture committee.

You may remember that in March, I proposed a program that would require inspection of properties that have been the subject of serious complaints first and then inspecting Seattle’s 42,000 rental properties, slowly over a period of ten years.

Today the Councilmembers in attendance (myself along with Councilmembers Bagshaw, Godden, and Clark) agreed that given that we don’t know exactly how much rental housing is in poor shape, the best way to improve the condition of unsafe housing is to knit together an approach of a. making safe the housing that we know now is not safe and b. inspecting – over the next ten years – the rest of the rental housing in order to gather better information.  After we know more about the condition of all Seattle’s rental housing, we will evaluate the program and determine a schedule for future inspections.

The legislation we will consider next will be drafted with these elements as well as a number of others important to the Councilmembers I’ve been working closely with to develop this program.  Here are just a few of those elements:

  1. In the year prior to the implementation of the program, DPD must engage in a multi-language outreach and education for tenants, landlords, and property managers.
  2. In the first three years of the program, require landlords to complete a self-declaration that they comply with minimum safety conditions for each unit at their property.  These self-declarations will be submitted when landlords register their properties with the city and renewal will be required every 5 years.
  3. DPD will require that landlords with properties that have multiple serious complaints to get an inspection before they are allowed to register their property.
  4. DPD will expand its use of civil warrant authority when a 3rdparty complains about the interior or exterior conditions of a rental property, as long as the conditions meet the legal threshold required by civil warrant authority.
  5. Starting in second year, dedicate trained private inspectors to perform random compliance inspections.  Allow inspector flexibility on percentage of units to inspect in multi-unit buildings, but maintain a minimum floor of 15% of the units in multi-unit buildings.  Properties less than 5 years old, owner occupied, or that are otherwise inspected under existing public subsidy programs would be exempt.
  6. Require property-owners to maintain inspection records to enable the City to conduct audit of inspection quality.
  7. Create a team that includes tenants, landlords, advocates to – on an on-going basis – act in an advisory role in implementation and evaluation.

I have great hopes for the positive impact of the public policy we are shaping today for renters living in substandard.  In LA (because the complaint-based inspection system didn’t work there either), in 1998 they adopted the Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP). SCEP inspects all multi-family residential properties in the City on a 4-year cycle–approximately 185,000 units annually.  The program received the Ash Institute Award from the Kennedy School: and resulted in a $1.3 billion re-investment in the City’s rental housing stock.  On average, this program costs tenants in LA less than $13 year.

 

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