In new law, renters get protection from bad landlords
To make sure landlords are following health and safety codes, the city of Seattle plans to inspect every rental-housing unit within the next 10 years.
The new city code, passed Oct. 1, was created in response to renters who say existing laws don’t protect tenants from retaliation by landlords.
Currently, city inspections of rental units are prompted by tenants’ complaints.
But renters told the Seattle City Council that landlords often evict those who complain to the city, which makes it harder for them to rent in the future.
John Robert Jones of Got Green?, an advocacy group that works on poverty and environmental issues, said the city should be proactive in protecting renters.
“There’s so many people of different ethnic backgrounds and so many different languages that [renters] don’t understand the laws,” he said.
The new law will require landlords to register each property. The law states that city inspectors will visit every rental unit within 10 years. Each unit will be inspected again every five years thereafter.
Tenants Union Executive Director Jonathan Grant said the program has been a long time coming and creates basic safety and health requirements.
“Every restaurant receives a health inspection, every driver passes a safety test to receive a license,” he said. “The same standards must apply to housing.”
But agencies representing landlords worried it was a big solution for a small problem.
Jamie Durkan of the Rental Housing Association called the inspection program a “mega agency.” The city could examine landlords who are known problems rather than forcing everyone to register with the city.
“We know who the bad actors are,” he said.
Durkan and others also worried the fees for inspection would be too high. The city code will require landlords to pay registration and inspection fees, but the amount is not yet set. Councilmember Nick Licata said fees will generate enough money to cover the expense of the program without additional city funding.
Even though the fine for not registering rental units with the city is $1,000, it’s still possible for bad landlords to slip under the radar. Some rental units, such as rooms rented in private homes, are not easily visible to city inspectors.
“This ordinance is not self-implementing,” said Joe Puckett of Washington Multi-family Housing Association. “It will still require people to report landlords who have failed to register their properties. It will still require people to report landlords who fail to maintain their properties.”
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.