Some members of Bellingham City Council have expressed the view that a complaint-driven system is adequate for a rental housing safety ordinance. It seems to me, however, that a complaint-driven system reveals only the tip of the iceberg of the system's failures.
We can draw an analogy to medicine. What is best overall is access to preventive medicine with a close relation with a family physician. We know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When disease is not prevented, cures become more difficult and expensive. And often those who can least afford it wait the longest to see a physician, frequently appearing at the emergency room when they can absolutely wait no longer and to which they have no alternative. It may seem that the poor get their care at low cost, but they pay a higher price with worse health and shorter life.
A better way relies on clear rules, full and inexpensive safety rather than code inspections and a fund to support renters whose landlords have failed after a warning and sufficient time to meet a new public standard for safe rental property. A complaint-driven system merely hides the costs to renters of landlords' failure to provide safe shelter. If the supply of rental housing in Bellingham is uniformly high quality, as has been claimed, only safety inspection and not renter complaints will prove this out.