Bellingham again discussing options to monitor rental housing

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 27, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - City Council is ready to make another run at setting up a system to regulate rental housing.

A proposal discussed during a Monday, Jan. 27, committee session would set up what City Planning Director Jeff Thomas called a registration system that appears a bit less burdensome to landlords than a more elaborate rental licensing system that council rejected on a 4-2 vote in 2011.

Thomas said the 2011 proposal would have required property owners to submit a form stating that their rentals complied with city health and safety codes. The current plan would require a simple registration and fee (not yet determined) similar to that imposed on other business operators within city limits. The main benefit would be the creation of a list of rental properties that city officials could use if they want to crack down on code violations.

For now, Mayor Kelli Linville and her staff say they want to keep the program cost as low as possible for both landlords and city taxpayers. The proposal envisions a small number of random inspections - one half of 1 percent of all registered units - plus better response to health and safety complaints from tenants.

Rental units with three or more unresolved code violations would have registrations revoked, according to Thomas' report to council. To get their registrations back, owners of those units would have to submit documentation from an independent inspector certifying that the problems have been fixed.

The administration also wants an effort to educate both landlords and tenants on minimum standards for rental housing.

Getting such a system up and running would take between three and five years, according to Thomas' estimate.

Council members unanimously agreed to continue discussion of the rental control system at a future committee meeting.

City Council President Cathy Lehman noted that the council has been discussing a rental regulation system off and on since 2008 without reaching agreement. She said the complexity of the issue justified past caution.

"I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing on something this important," Lehman said.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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