A new state law will allow local governments to evict residents from certain buildings contaminated by methamphetamine.
State House bill 1757 was sparked by the problems that arose at Burlington’s Sterling Motor Inn, which was found in November to have widespread high levels of methamphetamine contamination.
The City of Burlington advised residents of the motel to evacuate because the level of contamination was considered unsafe. Although the residents, some of whom had lived at the motel for years, left voluntarily, the city and Skagit County did not have the legal authority to evict them.
In 2015, the city of Bellingham condemned the Aloha Motel, declaring it a blight for housing criminal activity, and demolished it the same year. The property will be turned into a mix of affordable housing, offices and commercial space.
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Because of the Clandestine Drug Lab law, the Skagit County Public Health Department was unable to evict the residents because the law required that there be evidence of drug manufacturing.
The new law, which takes effect July 23, will allow local officials to evict residents if there is contamination from the use of certain hazardous chemicals, even without evidence of drug manufacturing.
Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys wrote the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, and was passed by both the state House and state Senate in mid-April.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill April 25.
“This takes away the idea that you have to have evidence of manufacturing meth. Now you just have to show that there is meth residue present,” Weyrich said.
Hayes said in a news release the city’s hands were tied by existing law.
“City officials wanted to move the people out, but they were told by the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office they couldn’t legally do it …” he said.
Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said he doesn’t think the Sterling Motor Inn incident is going to be the last time the city deals with a contaminated property.
“I think that (the law) is what it takes for Skagit County to do the job they should do in situations like that,” he said. “This is what the county said they needed.”
Because evictions based on contamination were not possible in November, the city had to take matters into its own hands, City Administrator Bryan Harrison said.
The city used building and fire code violations to tell residents not to enter the premises after a state Department of Health inspection found serious neglect at the South Burlington Boulevard motel.
“In the future if we have a hotel that has documented contamination it will be very clear that the local health officer can act to protect people from contamination,” Harrison said. “Without that, the city had to act on its own through building code violations …”
Beyond the high levels of meth contamination, the state health department reported that about 60 percent of the rooms did not have fire safety measures, such as working smoke detectors.
Violations also included rodent infestation in the laundry room, storage shed and the electrical panel room.
Beyond the failed health inspection, the motel had been the center of about 200 calls to police in 2015, a number that had continued to increase since 2009.
According to police, officers had been called for weapon offenses, domestic violence, drug deals, prostitution, burglary and assault.
The motel has since been completely evacuated and the owners are trying to sell the property, Harrison said.
He said interested buyers have contacted the city regarding information about the building.
Harrison said to his knowledge, the meth contamination has not been addressed on the property.
Harrison added the law is good news for the public.
“We don’t want there to be a next time, but we know somewhere in the state there will be a next time,” Harrison said.