Notorious Seattle landlord Hugh Sisley, who recently lost a lawsuit brought against a high-school newspaper that called him a racist slumlord, lost another court case yesterday that could cost him more than $600,000 in city housing-code violation fines.
Sisley, his wife Martha, and his brother Drake have owned more than 50 rental properties in the Roosevelt neighborhood that have been hit with more than 100 code violations over the years. In 2009, Hugh and Martha were ordered by the Seattle Municipal Court to pay two penalty judgments of $247,000 and $368,000 to settle a long list of property citations. A King County Superior Court judge upheld the ruling but reversed the fines, saying the city court didn't have the power to impose them. Yesterday the Court of Appeals said the muni court followed the law.
The Sisleys contended the city court, like district courts, are limited to imposing fines or penalties of $75,000 or less.
But, writes appeals judge Anne Ellington, "This is a misreading of the statutes" when applied in the Sisley case. "The City has the right to enforce its ordinances. To superimpose the district court jurisdiction limit upon municipal code enforcement proceedings is to frustrate the City's enforcement scheme and improperly undermine the power granted to the City by the legislature.
"The concern expressed by the Sisleys is not shared by the legislature or this court . . . We reverse and remand for reinstatement of the municipal court judgment."
Sisley, 84, is remembered as the landlord who hired a neo-Nazi gun runner named Keith Gilbert to manage his properties and enforce his rental policies. Gilbert, who once did time for conspiring to dynamite a stage where Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to speak, was sent back to prison after a 2005 bust for possession of illegal weapons including two machine guns.
The aging landlord couldn't be reached for comment on whether he will appeal the latest case to the State Supreme Court. Sisley is already appealing his loss in the libel case brought against the Seattle School District. As Jonathan Walczak reported in SW last month, a court ruled that a story in the Roosevelt High School newspaper accusing Sisley of "racist renting policies" was fair comment and protected by law. Sisley, the court said, also failed to show the statement was false or that his reputation was damaged because of it.
In court filings, school district attorneys stated that "since at least 1998, Hugh Sisley and his brother Drake have been known as being among the three worst 'slumlords' in the Seattle area, whose rental properties have been cited dozens of times for housing and building code violations." A 1998 Seattle Weekly story recounts how the Sisley's properties were known for their peeling paint, rickety steps, and yards filled with debris, generating chronic neighborhood complaints.