City Hall

Sally Bagshaw: Toward a Rental Housing Inspection Program That Works

By Sally Bagshaw April 17, 2012

Editor's note: As we reported late last week, the city council is considering several different versions of a proposed rental-housing inspection law, ranging from a mandatory, universal inspection program proposed by council member Nick Licata to a proposal by a group of large multi-family property owners that would create various "pools" of units that would be inspected in order of priority. 

Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, who serves as vice chair of the housing committee, offered her suggestions for a rental housing inspection program that would "protect tenants while minimizing bureaucratic requirements." Editor's notes in brackets.

Here are my thoughts on how to approach a citywide rental housing inspection program, and get results that protect tenants while minimizing bureaucratic requirements.

1. Require landlords to register their units with exemptions [owner-occupied units, transitional housing, units unavailable for rent, and other types of units identified on page 14 here] identified by DPD.

2. Collect data to confirm whether the 90% number of “good” housing is accurate [DPD has estimated that only about 10 percent of units in Seattle are out of compliance with the city's housing code.]

3. Adopt a basic check list of required minimum conditions that must be addressed for every unit.

4. Engage in a multi-language outreach and education for tenants, landlords, and property managers.

5. Include the Tenants Union, public defenders, property owners’ representatives, the Rental Housing Association, and other public agencies and organizations to help identify substandard and poorly maintained units.

6. Require landlords to submit a self-approved under oath and sworn to the truthstatement declaring that they meet the check list.

7. Inspect the poorly maintained units and those property owners known to DPD or identified by tenants and tenant advocates with known history of prior violations.  Inspect those units first and require compliance certification.

8. Dedicate DPD inspectors or trained private inspectors to inspect those units with significant health or safety impacts identified by tenants, or third parties including neighbors, advocates, property owner advocates and other organizations.

9. Allow evidence of poorly exterior maintenance (such as roof holes or major moss, broken windows, balconies and stairs in disrepair, disreputable yards full of trash, old equipment and cars and so on) to be the basis for third party complaints.  Complaints would trigger interior inspections.

10. Conduct random audits of self declarations to assure honesty and deter those who try to avoid the system.  Fine liars severely!

11. Conduct a modest number of random inspections to deter those landlords who would  corners and not in compliance, but focus our time and effort on those we KNOW or highly suspect are out of compliance.

12.  Create an internal SWAT team that includes tenants, landlords, advocates who will deal with discrimination or retaliation concerns and other issues that arise during this first year.

The housing committee plans to meet at least one more time to discuss and debate the various proposals for a housing inspection program.
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