Bellingham to look at rental registration system without inspections

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 9, 2014 

Western Washington University students move in

Western Washington University students Chase Bowden, left, and Robert Cove move a dryer in for Joe Hayes and his niece, WWU student Shelby Allison, who was moving into an apartment on North Garden Street north of campus Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, in Bellingham.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - The city is moving forward with a rental registration program, but one that doesn't require any inspections.

During its Monday, July 7, meeting, council voted unanimously for a public hearing on council member Roxanne Murphy's proposed rental safety ordinance that would require most property owners to register their rental units.

That hearing would happen later this summer, likely in September.

The council did not move forward with an option backed by council member Jack Weiss requiring both registration and inspection of a certain percentage of the city's rental units each year. Under that option, inspections likely would be paid for by charging a larger fee for registration.

The simple apartment and rental unit registrations system put forward Monday night would require property owners to declare that their units are in compliance with a city-provided checklist of safety standards. A registration fee has not been set.

If the city received a complaint that issues in a unit were not being addressed, the city could require a property owner to get a certified inspection before renewal of their registration would be approved.

Property owners also would be required to provide their contact information, like a street address, e-mail and phone number, as well as basic data about their units, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, what type of fuel is used for any space heating, and the building location.

During Monday's meeting, Weiss, who vocally opposed the idea of a registration-only ordinance during previous meetings, said he voted under protest for the draft ordinance to move forward to public comment.

Earlier in the day, during a committee meeting, Murphy said she drafted the registration-only ordinance in the hopes that the city could at least get a base ordinance on the books, as other options that have come before council over the past several years have failed.

"I worry if we do mandatory inspections, rental associations and property owners will do a filibuster, like they have done in other cities, and we'll be back at square one," she told the other council members.

Weiss told the committee he did not feel an inspection system driven by tenant complaints would be sufficient.

"It's like asking the dishwasher in a restaurant to make a complaint saying they think there's E. coli on the counter," he said. "The only way they can tell is if the health inspector goes and looks."

After Monday night's vote, council member Gene Knutson requested that the public hearing be held in the fall, as summer is a bad time for many people to make it to a public hearing.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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