Time to Audit Private Rental Inspections
Rental inspections in Bellingham performed by private inspection services should be audited immediately.
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The Sehome and York Neighborhoods have been inspected with an initial failure rate of about 50% in Sehome and approximately 31% in York. In Sehome, 748 units passed on either the first or subsequent inspections while 132 units remain in non-compliance. In the York neighborhood, of 519 units to be inspected, 161 failed the first inspection. [Note: York has 894 rental units, however the remaining units are either inspected by other government entities such as HUD or are inspected by private inspectors allowed under the law.] No inspected units have yet to be declared unfit for human habitation although the city is prepared to assist tenants who may lose their rental due to safety and health conditions.
There is some question regarding the initial failure rate of 50% in Sehome and 31% in York. Why the 20% difference? Without further analysis, that will become available as the inspection data base is refined, there are several possible explanations. First, the York neighborhood rentals are in better condition. Although possible, it is highly unlikely, but only more data will reveal the cause. Second is that inspection criteria have undergone some refinement. Indeed some inspection issues, such as height of egress windows, have been modified to accept the heights required by code at the time of permitting. Another possibility is that there are more units now passing “with conditions,” meaning the unit failed an inspection criterion but the fix is simple, does not require a second inspection and is entrusted to the landlord to correct immediately. Unfortunately, this is now counted as a pass, however, there were fewer of the pass “with conditions” during the first round in Sehome. In order to determine the true nature and condition of rental units, those passing “with conditions” should be counted in the fail category. Eventually, the data base will be refined to demonstrate what types of failures are encountered and the number by failure category.
The city has been carrying out rental registration and inspections mandated by the City Council. All rentals were to have been registered by the beginning of 2016. Only a few holdouts remain from that initial registration round and the code enforcement office of the Bellingham Police Department has these cases in hand, which number less than 75. There are approximately 16,000 rental units in Bellingham subject to inspection that are contained in 5,700 properties. Each property must be re-registered at the beginning of each calendar year, however, the first renewal period ended in January with about 2,400 of 5,700 properties not re-registered, a phenomenal 42%. The reasons for the non-compliance are not readily clear but the city is working diligently to recontact property owners who have not yet re-registered. Nevertheless, inspections are moving forward, now in Happy Valley and then on to South Hill, Fairhaven and Edgemoor.