Landlords get a reprieve

The City Council has decided not to pursue a more aggressive program of inspecting rental housing.
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The City Council has decided not to pursue a more aggressive program of inspecting rental housing.

Just in time for budget deliberations, the Seattle City Council has received a consultant's report that looked at options to improve the city's rental-housing inspection program. In the early going, it appears the $50,000 the city paid for the study was for naught, because the council this week rejected a measure to upgrade the city's system.

As we reported in June, the council a year ago authorized a study to consider whether Seattle should adopt a proactive program patterned after one in Pasco, Wash., which withstood a legal challenge brought by landlords that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The impetus behind the Seattle council's action was that too many tenants don't complain about substandard housing because they don't know where to turn, or fail to report problems out of fear of retaliation.

But the Nov. 5 report by Tom Byers and Claire Powers of Cedar River Group [1.3 MB PDF] determined that the high cost to establish a proactive program, along with the relatively small segment of substandard rental housing in Seattle, do not warrant following Pasco's lead.

The report estimated the cost to establish a similar program in Seattle at $3.5 million annually, which would be borne by an annual license fee of about $28 per rental unit per year. It also found survey data suggesting that approximately 85 percent to 90 percent of Seattle's rental housing stock is in good condition.

Instead, the consultants recommended a five-point plan to upgrade the current system, including securing state legislation for civil inspection warrants under certain conditions; increased outreach and training for tenants and landlords; and stiffer fines.

With that info in hand, the council this week considered — and rejected — a measure that would have set aside about $12,000 to develop an enhanced housing enforcement pilot project. An aide to Nick Licata, who as council president pushed for study, said he still favors the Pasco approach and is working to "turn around" the decision in time for another budget vote Monday. Stay tuned.


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