This afternoon the City Council is expected to pass legislation that will require all of Seattle's rental properties to register with the city and submit to inspection. A longtime goal of councilmember Nick Licata, the legislation's approval will mark a significant step in what's been a lengthy battle.
Licata has been working toward such a vote since at least 2006. For its part, the Tenants Union of Washington State - which has been a major catalyst for reform over the years and throughout the process of bringing Council Bill 117569 to life - has been fighting slumlords for over 20 years, and sees Monday's vote as a potentially major victory.
To boil it down, the legislation will require every rental property in Seattle to eventually register with the city (including paying a registration fee), meet basic health and safety requirements, submit to random annual inspections when chosen (up to 10 percent of the city's rental properties will be subject to such inspections each year), and require all rental properties to be inspected at least once a decade. The city will certify private inspectors to carry out these inspections, and landlords will have the ability to choose which inspector to hire for the job.
Most everyone seems to agree that that city's current complaint-based system leaves much to be desired, and can leave many tenants - especially those of the low-income variety -subject to sub-standard living conditions without any real means of rectifying the situation.
Licata attempts to describe the problem with the city's current complaint-based system in a recent blog post:
In their last assessment of housing quality in Seattle, a survey showed that about 10 percent of rental units in Seattle have severe to moderate problems. The Department of Planning and Development gets about 500 complaints a year about rental housing conditions. If there are about 147,000 rental units and 10%, or 14,700 have problems, then that means only about 3.5% of the folks living in the worst housing are using DPD's complaint-based code enforcement system. For this reason, I'm pleased that the Council was able to agree to knit together an approach of making safe the housing that we know now is not safe and inspecting - over the next 10 years - the rest of the city's rental housing. In this way we will significantly improve the condition of unsafe rental housing.
The Tenants Union of Washington gets slightly more graphic in a recent press release:
Florencia Ybarra, a Seattle tenant, knows well the risks of the existing complaint-based system, reflecting on how her son's teacher called because he kept falling asleep in class. She explained, "We had to sleep with the lights on at night because if we turned the lights off, cockroaches would come out of the walls and crawl all over my kid's bodies. When I called DPD to inspect my apartment, my landlord filed an eviction against me. I went through a long court process and even though I ended up winning, I now have an eviction action on my record the rest of my life that makes it almost impossible to get housing. People in my community, the Latino community, live in constant fear of losing their homes and are terrified of retaliation. No family deserves what we went through. All families deserve healthy homes."
By the sound of things, we'll get a little closer to that goal today.
And unless you're a total slumlord, that can only be seen as a good thing.