Bellingham council moves cautiously on rental registry, inspections

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 19, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - The City Council's planning committee considered a variety of options for a proposed new system of registration and inspection of rental housing Monday, May 19.

The options, presented by Planning Director Jeff Thomas, offered a range of choices with widely varying annual costs that would be recouped from fees that property owners would pay.

At the low end, a simple registration-only system with no inspections would cost about $124,000, which would require annual charges ranging from $10 for single-unit rentals to $80 for the largest apartment complexes with 20 or more units.

The most expensive choice would include 1,200 random inspections per year of the estimated 6,200 rental properties in the city. That would cost close to $800,000 per year to cover the hiring of seven additional city employees to inspect buildings, enforce building codes and handle the extra paperwork, Thomas told the council.

At that level, property owners with a single rental unit could expect to pay $75 a year, while the owners of large complexes would pay $300 a year-although Thomas stressed that the division of costs between small and large landowners would be subject to further study.

After about 90 minutes of discussion, the three committee members could not reach a consensus. Roxanne Murphy said she thought random inspections were a waste of time and money, since most rental units have no problems. She favored a registration system with follow-up inspections based on tenant complaints, with money devoted to educating both tenants and landlords about their responsibilities.

Jack Weiss argued that without random inspections, the city has no way of knowing how many landlords are failing to keep their properties complying with health and safety codes.

Gene Knutson noted that the council has been wrestling with the issue for 10 years. He suggested that the committee forward the matter on to the full council to see if a majority of council members can agree on a system that they can support.

That discussion was scheduled for the council's Monday evening session.

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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