Council Passes Legislation to Demolish Dangerous, Vacant Buildings

The emergency legislation will take effect immediately after being signed by the Mayor

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council unanimously passed legislation today that would allow the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) to swiftly order the demolition or remediation of unsafe vacant buildings that pose risks to public safety. The bill was sponsored by Councilmembers Bob Kettle (District 7, Downtown to Magnolia) and Tammy J. Morales (Yesler Terrace to Rainier Beach). 

“The inability to demolish these hazards has contributed to a permissive environment where government stands by as predictable accidents and crimes occur,” said Councilmember Kettle. “Today, the Council took decisive action to change that. This legislation will substantially address the issue of dangerous vacant buildings. We owe it to our brave firefighters and our neighbors to take a proactive approach, so they don’t have to endanger their lives to put out fires at vacant buildings.” 

“Fires in derelict buildings have become a dangerous hazard across the City, especially in District 2. Between 2022-23 there were over 60 fires between Yesler Terrace and Rainier Beach, and someone tragically lost their life,” said Councilmember Morales. “This legislation marks a turning point. I’m heartened that we passed this bill, as it’s something that I’ve been working on for over a year in partnership with the Seattle Fire Department, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, and the City Attorney’s office. Thank you to Councilmember Kettle, the Mayor, and my colleagues for supporting this critical, life-saving bill.” 


Fires in vacant buildings have become a growing, serious problem for the city. There were 77 incidents in 2021, 91 in 2022, and a staggering 130 fires in 2023. In the first three and a half months of 2024 alone, there were 30 fires in derelict structures. 

Just this morning, a fire in a vacant apartment building in Roosevelt killed one person and injured three others. 

Another alarming incident this year was a three-alarm blaze at a vacant apartment building in First Hill that required over 100 firefighters to contain. The fire displaced residents in a neighboring building and shut down a major arterial for several weeks. In 2023, three people lost their lives in fires that started in vacant, dangerous buildings. 

What the legislation does

The bill passed today will allow the City to address vacant dangerous buildings using a variety of tools. The legislation: 

  • Amends the Seattle Fire Code to allow SFD to order remediation or complete demolition of derelict buildings. 
  • Requires property owners to pay for necessary work to make dangerous buildings or sites safe. 
  • In extreme cases, authorizes the City to conduct needed abatement work to improve the safety of a site and place liens on properties to recover costs. 

The Seattle Fire Department has identified over 40 vacant buildings potentially impacted by this legislation, all of which have had at least one fire. Funding included with the legislation is anticipated to allow SFD to address four buildings in 2024. 

What’s next

Now that the bill has been passed by the Council, it heads to the Mayor’s desk for signature. Because of the emergency clause, it will take effect immediately if signed by Mayor Harrell.