More than 200 Bellingham rentals near WWU campus fail first city inspections

Rob Barker, building inspector with the City of Bellingham, works through a follow-up rental inspection in the 500 block of Boulevard on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in Bellingham.
Rob Barker, building inspector with the City of Bellingham, works through a follow-up rental inspection in the 500 block of Boulevard on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in Bellingham. eabell@bhamherald.com

About 42 percent of rental units failed an initial inspection in the first round of city-required rental inspections for problems ranging from wobbly or missing handrails to exit windows that wouldn’t open or missing carbon monoxide detectors.

About 536 rental units were involved in the first round of inspections which started in June and are expected to be finished by the end of September in the Sehome neighborhood, located north of Western Washington University.

Of those, 231 units passed or passed with conditions at the first appointment.

Many of those conditions had to do with minor issues, such as smoke or carbon monoxide detectors that needed to be put back on a wall or have a battery installed, said Emma Burnfield, Bellingham’s rental registration specialist.

“I know we had one case where they were in the process of installing the handrail, so that was a pass with the note we expect that work to get done,” she said.

But about 227 units failed their first inspection, Burnfield said, for a variety of reasons, such as:

▪  egress windows, which provide exit in case of a fire or emergency, that couldn’t open

▪  missing carbon monoxide detectors, which are required by state law

▪  missing or unstable handrails on stairs and decks

▪  exposed wiring

▪  leaking plumbing

▪  lock issues, including at least three cases where a key was needed to open the door from the inside

▪  and gas appliances located in sleeping rooms.

About 78 units, or 14.5 percent, missed the inspection appointment, meaning no one was there when an inspector arrived to look at the unit. Those were automatically rescheduled for appointments, Burnfield said.

As of Sept. 13, 115 units that had re-inspections passed or passed with conditions, seven failed, 19 were marked as missed appointments, and two passed or passed with conditions at a re-inspection.

What to know if your unit hasn’t been inspected yet

So how can landlords or tenants make sure their units are able to pass inspection when its their turn?

First, check that the unit follows the inspection checklist, which has been publicly available online at cob.org/rentals.

Items on the list range from relatively small things, such as making sure address numbers are visible and that appliances such as refrigerators have handles on them, to larger items such as making sure foundations aren’t falling or crumbling and the roof doesn’t have holes or leaks.

“Really take a look at that,” Burnfield said. “If you can do a walk-through of your unit before the city comes in, we highly recommend that.”

Inspections by city inspectors cost $100 per unit, and the first re-inspection does not cost anything. Owners are allowed to use private inspectors in lieu of city inspectors, but still owe the city a $45 fee per unit in addition to the cost of the private inspector.

“What we’ve seen this first round is a lot of the management companies and owners with larger portfolios are going the private inspector route,” Burnfield said.

People curious about when their unit might be inspected can call and check with the city, which has mapped out a draft of which neighborhoods will be inspected over each three-month period for the next three years, Burnfield said. The number to call is 360-778-8361.

The first round, in Sehome, should wrap up at the end of the month, and from October to December, inspections will take place in the York neighborhood.

Then, from January to April 2017, Happy Valley units will be up, and then from May to July 2017, South Hill, Fairhaven, Edgemoor and South Bellingham units will be due.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil