The Unconscionable State of Our Rentals

Rental inspections are providing a window into the condition of rentals and the view is outrageous.

Rental inspections are providing a window into the condition of rentals and the view is outrageous.

The statistics from the first round of rental inspections in Bellingham were quite sobering, a 50% failure rate upon first inspection of rental units in the Sehome neighborhood. That is pretty bad and now the inspectors have moved on to the York neighborhood where more than 50% of the single family housing stock has been transformed into rentals. The city has released no statistics on the present round of rental inspections but the planning department did provide a 166 page document that lists all the inspections to date with descriptions of the violations found. Some are enough to gag a rat while others would give sleepless nights to parents of the predominantly student renters.

All this as the background echo of the real estate industry and the landlords false claims of “a few bad apples” reverberate in City Council chambers. One is forced to ask upon reading these violations, “Who are these landlords and just what are they thinking?” How can such obvious neglect be countenanced by a human being? The registration and inspection ordinance was passed about two years ago. Did these landlords ever give a thought to starting repairs? Or were they endangering their tenants by cynically waiting for their inspection so they would not over-correct violations and spend too much money?

For your perusal I have culled, from the hundreds of reports, a few of the violation descriptions. You can find more at this link. Here we go:

“14 days Most items not fixed. Please review list from initial inspection. **list from initial inspection**RB 8/26/2016 1:38:04 PM Upstairs unit. 60 days 1 - ceiling open to attic and roof (attic access hatch missing) 2 - south side bathroom, appears to be water under vinyl flooring 3 - seal openings in vinyl flooring in south side bathroom 4 - weather stripping at rear entrance door missing, open to the elements 5 - one window near rear door open the the elements, gap in frame 6 - floor sheathing outside north side bathroom soft and rotted from past leak, covered with vinyl flooring 7 - southeast bedroom, no operable egress window 8 - northwest corner of house, siding open to foundation 9 - couch on garage roof, garage likely not designed for live loads such as furniture or multiple people 10 - northeast corner of garage, ceiling joists rotted, not supporting roof, risk of collapse under body weight”

“Unprotected wiring above tub 2 - no light at rear entry 3 - provide one smoke alarm per sleeping room and one in immediate vicinity on outside of room, and one per level (mounting brackets present, did not see alarms) 4 - provide one CO alarm per level 5 - large openings in basement, garage/basement doors do not close securely or lock, Windows not secure and several areas open for rodent intrusion 6 - significant water pooling, clothes washer on pallets to keep above water pools 7 - un-terminated wiring near fuse box, unprotected wiring hanging below floor joists, worn through sheathing in areas 8 – switch hanging from wiring near chimney 9 - large opening in chimney in basement, gas room heater vented through chimney 10 - guard and handrail at basement steps 11 - clothes dryer not hooked up to vent 12 - dead bolt at rear entrance inoperable, knob lock only held in place by striker plate, door jamb compromised”

“Sewage leaking throughout basement in storage room and lower level bedrooms 2 - proof of adequate sanitation and mitigation of affected areas from specialty cleaning agency (basement storage area and lower level bedrooms) 3 - tenants should not be exposed to areas affected by sewage leak until properly sanitized 4 - inadequate ventilation in upstairs bathroom, walls are cracked and soft to touch 5 - upstairs bedroom windows not operable. Do not open far enough for egress, not weatherproof, do not close completely 6 - missing smoke alarm in upstairs bedroom 7 - missing smoke alarm in upstairs hallway 8 - CO alarms required on each level 9 - main level bath walls and ceiling cracked and soft to touch, inadequate ventilation 10 - storm windows over sleeping room windows do not meet egress window requirements”

“Significant rotting at rear deck. Deck boards, joists, rim and beam soft and crumbling provide smoke/CO alarms in missing locations 2 - evidence of closet being used as a sleeping room (bed, clothing, personal items) 3 - protect wiring at water heater 4 - missing junction box covers in basement.”

“Several large openings exist in structure. Repairs were attempted but not made in a workmanlike manner. Home not sealed to weather and rodents. Evidence of rodent intrusion still present in home. Provide rodent mitigation and seal structure.” “room in basement closest to furnace, large openings in walls and ceilings, with exposed framing and insulation 2 - basement room near exterior door, light fixture hanging from wiring in ceiling 3 - no trap, no air gap in clothes washer standpipe 4 - downstairs tenant reports strong sewer gas smell near bathroom 4 - large opening in basement bath ceiling, unprotected wiring and open to framing 5 - basement toilet not sealed at base, installed on blocks on uneven floor 6 - unprotected wiring at water heater, wiring insulation frayed and worn. Replace wiring and protect with conduit 7 - one smoke alarm per sleeping room and in hallway in immediate vicinity of sleeping rooms required 8 - one CO alarm per level require 9 - upstairs room to left of stairway, exposed/unprotected wiring at light switch 10 - upstairs room to right of stairway, light fixture hanging from wiring, exposed wiring 11 - leak in ceiling by range, gets wet when it rains 12 - exterior light under rear porch broken, exposed wiring 13 - chimney leaning, mortar joints deteriorated, gas appliances venting through chimney 14 - basement window near side stairway broken, exposed glass.”

This article will be updated as the city provides the statistical breakdown of inspection pass/fails.

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

Jan 18, 2017

Well ya - there are slummy rentals in the nabe - and the inspection regime appears to be forcing improvements. The dilapidated house on my block previously-inhabited by a punk rock band followed by a herd of heroin addicts running a bicycle chop shop has been completely renovated and is now occupied by four WWU seniors. This is a bg improvement, and I must admit that the rental inspection regime, which I opposed and you, DIck, promoted, seems to be working.

We shall see the overall stats as the process unfolds - Rome was not built in a day.


Geoff Middaugh

Jan 18, 2017

Excellent analysis.   So are all the inspections complete in these 160 plus pages completed by COB inspectors?   There is some pretty scary stuff in this.    Are any of these done by private inspectors?    Has the COB worked that issue out yet?   


Dick Conoboy

Jan 18, 2017


Since the city has not given me the breakdown, I don’t know how many inspections were done by private inspectors in York.  In Sehome, about 30% of the units inspected were done by private inspectors.  The city does not get a copy of these private inspectors’ checklists with the results, only  pass/fail certificate.  The city is awaiting the results of a court case in Seattle regarding this issue, possibly in March before deciding further action.  The claim is that the private inspector sheets indicating the violations is a privacy matter.  I say bullshit.  These inspectors are state actors under the inspection laws.

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