The Seattle City Council passed a new rental housing inspection law in October, but it could be years before the inspections actually take place.
Last week, staff from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) told city councilmembers they need a new database to track the rental properties and make sure the information is viewable to the public through a website. They also need more staff and at least three years to get the program set up.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that system will work efficiently,” Faith Lumsden, director of DPD’s Code Compliance Program, told the city council’s Housing and Human Services Committee Jan. 9.
The council passed an ordinance in October requiring the DPD to develop a new rental housing inspection program to ensure that the more than 100,000 rental units in the city meet health and safety standards. The ordinance requires rental property owners to register, pay a fee and declare that their properties meet city codes. Failure to register could result in a $1,000 fine.
Additionally, the city will inspect each property at random, eventually examining every property in the city within 10 years.
Tenants Union of Washington State, Got Green?, and Solid Ground pushed for the legislation, which protects low-income people who are living in substandard housing and are afraid to complain to the city. Prior laws did not protect tenants from retaliation by landlords.
Beginning in 2014, landlords must start registering their properties with the city. DPD staff has not determined how much the program will cost to run, which will dictate how much the city can charge property owners to register. The program must be cost neutral, meaning the city cannot gain any revenue from registration fees, so the rate will be determined by the cost of starting and maintaining the program.
Property owners will be allowed to register online, by mail and in person. The registration process alone is expected to take three years to complete. During the first year, the DPD will register an estimated 20,000 properties with five or more units. The following two years the DPD will register all other properties. The DPD has already asked the city budget office to provide funding for a full-time staff person to supervise the creation and operation of the program, Lumsden said.