October 10, 2012
Vol: 19 No: 41

Dr. Wes

On closer inspection, the city’s new rental housing law is worth about what we paid for it

By Dr. Wes Browning

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Just last week I mentioned that I once lived in an 85-square-foot room in the University District that was so obviously a housing-code violation that you could see it by just driving by it.

It was as if I lived three years in the interior of a cigar box. After my column was written, and two days before that column appeared, the Seattle City Council voted to require registration and inspection of all Seattle rental housing. This finally proves that the Seattle City Council has inserted an electronic chip in my brain and records all my waking thoughts.

As usual, our liberal do-gooder city council has blown it, and I’m loving it.

I spend a lot of effort and words railing at stupid conservatives. It’s nice to have the opportunity to beat up on the liberals every now and then.

This stupid city government never learns. When you read people’s minds, read it all, don’t just scan the pictures and read the captions. If they had read all my thoughts about the 85 square-foot, very bad rented room, they would have read what happened after I left it.

I moved out of that room soon after finding out that the building was bought by a developer who was going to demolish it within a year. I had heard about something called Relocation Assistance, a city program to help prevent homelessness by assisting people with funds when they are evicted through no fault of their own.

The fundamental idea of it was brilliant: Every tenant would receive a grant of about $2,000 to pay for transitioning to a new apartment. The city would pay half of that, the landlord would match that half.

What could go wrong?

Maybe you’re thinking, the landlord fails to pay, is what could go wrong.

Sure, if you’re a normal human being with a single functioning neuron, you would think of that. But the city council we had back in the ’80s that passed the Relocation Assistance law must not have had a single functioning neuron among them, or it was being held down and sat upon by useless liberal do-gooder thug neurons.

The city tried to fund half the relocation assistance program on the backs of the landlords. The landlords were already hurting, which is why they were selling out to developers in the first place. They weren’t going to come up with $1,000 for every tenant.

In my case that would have meant returning almost six months’ rent.

I didn’t get the landlord’s half of my relocation assistance for another five or six years. When I did, it was in the form of a check from the city. The city had been ordered to pay the outstanding amounts after losing a class-action lawsuit for not enforcing its own law.

The new rental registration and inspection program suffers from the same key flaw as the Relocation Assistance law. The idea that landlords should pay for the cost of implementing it doesn’t make a drop of sense.

What are you trying to do, Seattle City Council? Drive all the city’s landlords out of the city so there won’t be any commercial housing here at all? Is that the idea? Just make being a landlord impossible, so nobody rents here? Problem solved? Lop off the head to cure the headache?

It’s unrealistic to expect landlords to pay not only for improvements to properties that need to comply with housing regulations, but then, to add insult to injury, make them pay for the inspection to verify that the improvements were made.

At some point the people and their representatives in government have to accept the fact that if government expects things to happen the way government wants them to happen, government has to pay for it.

You can’t get everything you want by finding a scapegoat to pay for it. The other option is to admit that you don’t want that outcome after all.

It’s the Aesop fable, “Who will bell the cat?”

The city council expects the cat to bell himself, and even to pay for his own bell and collar.

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