The Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (WMFHA), which represents the owners of large apartment buildings, has proposed its own alternative to contentious rental-housing inspection legislation that the group says strikes a balance between a Department of Planning and Development proposal housing advocates said was too vague and a Tenants Union-backed proposal by council member Nick Licata that they say goes to far and would not address truly substandard buildings.

Until this week's housing committee meeting, two basic options were on the table. The first, the DPD model, would require random inspections of rental housing units, voluntary registration by all landlords ("self-certifying" that they're in compliance with the city's housing standards), mandatory inspections of units that have had complaints or been found to be in violation of housing codes, and other standards and requirements.

The second is aimed at addressing some problems tenant advocates had with DPD's proposal---specifically, the fact that it didn't specify how many units would have to be inspected each year, relied heavily on random inspections, and would only require inspections of units whose owners had been reprimanded under the existing, complaint-based system (which tenant advocates say doesn’t work because it opens tenants to the threat of retaliation from landlords). That proposal would mandate inspection of all rental properties over a ten-year period.

The apartment owners' proposal largely duplicates the DPD option, with a few key differences.

"Integrating known and knowable problems with education, aggressive complaint-based enforcement, and aggressive proactive enforcement will identify and abate substandard housing many times faster and more effectively than randomized-only inspections."

First, it would deprioritize random inspections, putting them at the bottom of a list of "pools" of properties that would be inspected in chronological order.

First up: Approximately 80 so-called "frequent fliers"---property owners who've been cited for violations in the past---would have their properties inspected by city-certified inspectors. The second group targeted for inspections would be properties for which DPD receives complaints from tenants after doing an enhanced outreach campaign---about 1,000 properties, the building managers estimate.The third would be properties that have exterior problems like excessive mold, trash in the yard, or broken windows, about 368 properties. The fourth would be properties that people other than tenants have complained to DPD about. And finally, DPD would do random compliance audits of about 2,040 properties a year.

Additionally, the housing owners' association proposal includes a specific list of violations inspectors should search for.

"What we're proposing is to do a real targeted inspection, to go after the folks that are the bad people---if you just have a random inspection, you're really only focusing on a small percentage of the problem," WMFHA lobbyist Tim Hatley says. "We all agree that there are bad [landlords] out there that should be busted; we just think a totally random inspection over 10 years to try to get everyone in compliance is the least efficient way to achieve that."

Additionally, Hatley contends that larger buildings (like the ones owned by his clients) are less likely than smaller buildings to have violations, because they're more likely to be professionally managed. "Our guys will never have mold in their units," he says.

Hatley says he agrees with DPD that registration is a positive thing, but predicts that the delinquent landlords---those he calls "the bad guys"---"will never register."

Licata did not return a call for comment on the housing association's proposal.  However, at the housing committee meeting, he suggested that the committee should meet at least once more after reviewing the proposal.
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