What Landlords Need to Know about Rental Registration

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Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 5:30 am  //  Guest writer

A Robust Inspection of This Burned Rental Would Have Saved This Landlord Time and Money

Theo Bickel guest writes this article.  He is a recent Political Science graduate from WWU.

When discussing rental code enforcement, you may think it's a dispute between tenants and landlords, or a new draconian tax targeting landlords. This is not true. Washington law has already established a landlord’s legal responsibilities and the minimum health and safety standards of rental properties. The city of Bellingham is discussing the proactive enforcement of existing laws. Most landlords in this town abide by the laws and work hard to keep their properties in the best condition they can. However, in a town with 13,000 rental properties and around 40,000 tenants, many rental properties contain serious safety code violations and put the lives of tenants, neighbors, and our entire community at risk.

Since rental properties are an essential part of our community, their safety is the city's top priority. The city  is discussing proactive code enforcement by requiring rental properties to be registered with the city after a “self-declaration of compliance with a published checklist of minimum standards.” This lays out a checklist of standards that all properties must comply with to make sure there are no unsafe conditions “that endanger or impair or could endanger or impair the health or safety of a tenant.” If a rental property is found to be in violation of these conditions the city will require the landlord bring the property back up to safe standards with a “certificate of inspection” confirming repairs have been done. This program would be funded by a baseline fee to all landlords – similar to a business license. The city would apply fines and civil infractions for violations of health and safety laws to keep housing up to safe levels.

Rental registration would be a city service providing new resources and benefits to landlords. Here are the advantages to landlords in Rental Registration and Code Enforcement.

1. Levels the Playing Field –Currently, landlords who maintain their properties to safety standards compete against those who do not maintain their properties, allowing them to decay to unsafe levels. The registration system is structured to have a minimal impact on landlords who pass inspections and do not have a history of code violations. Fines escalate on landlords who have repeated safety violations in their rental properties. Therefore, this program will lead to a more fair market..

2. Creates Certainty in Rental Market – Registering all rental properties and bringing unsafe housing up to code will lead to greater market confidence, sustainable business practices and greater future investment in the rental market.

3. Enhances Communication between the City and Landlords – Understanding one’s rights and responsibilities may be difficult for new landlords. This program will make city resources and support more accessible. Some examples are:

 - Listing of landlord rights and responsibilities,
 - Standards for rental property health and safety,
 - Identification of unsafe conditions,
 - Assistance of licensed inspectors with professional knowledge about health and safety standards in buildings,
 - Coordinated access to community development non-profits and HUD programs to help low-income landlords in need of assistance.

4. Creates Advertising – A complete on-line list of rental properties with valid registration will be available to tenants. Not only will this site be easy to navigate, but it will also provide advertising to interested customers. After registered properties are certified, the non-registered properties will be avoided by tenants.

5. Improves Safety – Greater maintenance in rental properties will decrease rental fires and create safer communities that benefit everyone in Bellingham. Through registration, the city will be able to contact landlords during emergencies.

6. Increases Property Values – Rental housing will be improved by the enforcement of rental property health and safety standards. Neighborhoods with substandard housing will see new investments and a significant reduction in blight, leading to healthier and more valuable communities.

The Rental Registration program being discussed in the city of Bellingham is based upon data from successful implementation of proactive code enforcement policies in cities across America. These advantages are real, and they are tangible. Landlords, tenants, and all citizens in the city of Bellingham will benefit from the registration of rental properties and the proactive enforcement of health and safety standards. When the worst players of the rental market take advantage of their tenants, ignore their responsibilities, and put people in danger, this impacts community members and landlords who fulfill their duties. Not only is this unfair but it makes it harder to run an honest business. By having a universal registration system and a baseline of safety standards, this program can help bring landlords and city staff together to improve housing in Bellingham.

Support Rental Registration in Bellingham. Write to the mayor (klinville@cob.org) and to the city council (ccmail@cob.org)

Links to source material:

City of Bellingham 2013 – 2017 Consolidated Plan. Community Development].  2012

Bellingham City Council Agenda Bill 20382:  A briefing on a draft ordinance to establish a rental registratiklinville@cob.orgon program. Planning Committee. [4/23/2014].

A Guide to Proactive Rental Inspection Programs. Change Lab Solutions, 2014

An Analysis of Rental Property Registration in Austin [Texas]. Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic. July 2013.

Using Housing Code Enforcement to Improve Healthy Homes. North Carolina Medical Journal, 2012.
.

 

Barbara Perry  //  Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 7:46 pm

Thank you for your work on this Theo.  Bellingham has been needing this for a long time.  Good Luck


Delaine Clizbe  //  Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 8:23 pm

It is absolutely amazing that I have been a landlord for 16 years and did not have any of these services.  How on earth did I survive?  Theo makes it sound like landlords asked for this.  We did not.

My response to each suggestion:
1) LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD:  My well maintained rental units do not need any leveling.  The fact that someone else wants to own less than standard units does not decrease the value of my units but increases them.  Believe me someone else’s un-maintained rental unit is no competition for me.

2) CREATES CERTAINTY IN THE RENTAL MARKET.  Certainty for who? With a less than 1% vacancy rate I can tell you the market for rentals is pretty certain. Perhaps Theo should be asking the City why we have such a low supply of housing in our community.

3) ENHANCE COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LANDLORD AND CITY .  I understand my rights.  I am perfectly capable of goggling “Washington State Landlord Tenant Law” and reading the whole entire thing. I did not ask the City for help in this area.  I already have standards: I would live in any of my units.

4) CREATES ADVERTISING.  With a less than 1% vacancy rate no landlord needs to advertise. I certainly have not asked the City for help advertising.

5) IMPROVES SAFETY.  So much wrong with this statement.  I do not need to have the City contact me when there is an emergency at one of my units.  My tenants will contact me.  Tenants have the ability now to contact the City and ask for code enforcement if their unit is unsafe.  This registration program does nothing to insure safe units. 

6) INCREASES IN PROPERTY VALUES:  If what Theo states is true rents will also increase and first time homeowners will be less likely to be able to afford a home.  Double edged sword.

I find it pretty condescending for Theo to try to “school” me on what my business needs after 16 years of successfully running a rental business that offers a well maintained product and is very tenant centered.  Some of us in the community don’t believe we need Government to solve every little problem   It is time for WWU students to step up and take responsibility for their rental choices.  Don’t like living in a run down unit?  Don’t rent it in the first place and by all means move if it becomes run down. 

This proposed ordinance is nothing more than a money grab by the City and a chance to increase Government by adding an additional job description to their duties.  The fact that it has been debated for years shows that it does not offer the citizens of Bellingham anything other than a bill in the mail.


Dick Conoboy  //  Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 8:37 am

Hi Delaine!

Your comments are always so welcome as they tend to prove the very points made in the article.  As the lead-in to the article states, “Landlords are so caught up opposing a licensing and inspection ordinance, they cannot see the upside for them in ridding the city of bad rentals.”

Thanks,

Dick


Theo Bickel  //  Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 11:39 pm

Hi Barbara, thank you very much for your support.

Hi Delaine, thank you for responding to my article. There is a lot we can discuss but I would like to emphasize one point:  WA law requires all landlords to maintain their rental properties to meet a minimum health and safety standard. Like workplace safety or restaurant safety, rental safety is a public health concern and our public officials have a duty to protect Bellingham citizens.

I commend you for being a responsible and attentive landlord, but your experience simply does not speak for the thousands of landlords in this town. Our complaint-based code enforcement system and self-regulation have resulted in deteriorating and unsafe rental properties that threaten tenants and jeopardize our entire community.

Landlords, tenants, and all citizens in the city of Bellingham will benefit from the registration of rental properties which will proactively enforce health and safety standards. With your business practices, this program can help you continue to responsibly manage properties for at least another 16 years.


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