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One-third of Bellingham rental inspections done by private inspectors

Two rental signs along North Garden St. Wednesday, July 9, 2014 in Bellingham. Inspections, which will be required of most rental units once every three years, started out in the Sehome neighborhood with about 880 units due to be looked over between June and September.
Two rental signs along North Garden St. Wednesday, July 9, 2014 in Bellingham. Inspections, which will be required of most rental units once every three years, started out in the Sehome neighborhood with about 880 units due to be looked over between June and September. The Bellingham Herald

More than a third of the first rental units inspected under Bellingham’s rental safety program were done by private inspectors.

Private inspectors do not give the city a detailed checklist of issues with rental units, as city staffers who inspect rentals do. Instead, the city receives a declaration of inspection from private inspectors after a unit has passed.

Inspections, which will be required of most rental units once every three years, started out in the Sehome neighborhood with about 880 units due to be checked between June and September.

Landlords can opt to use either a city inspector for $100, or private inspectors for whatever their fee is, plus a $45 charge that goes to the city.

About 314 out of the roughly 880 units were inspected by private inspectors, said Emma Burnfield, the city’s rental registration specialist.

As of Thursday, Oct. 6, the city still was waiting for 158 of those 314 final reports attesting the units had passed private inspection.

For city-performed inspections in that neighborhood, about 78 units were still waiting as of Thursday for follow-ups before they could be listed as a “pass.”

City inspectors found more than 200 units failed on first inspection, for reasons ranging from egress windows that couldn’t open to missing or unstable handrails on stairs and decks, and a variety of other issues.

Private inspectors

Private inspectors used for the program have to come from a city-approved list of those who were trained to look for specific items.

The city checklist used for inspections is available online at cob.org/rentals, along with a slew of other information for tenants, landlords and inspectors.

Tenants can ask the city if their unit passed or not, but will have to ask the property owner for details on any issues about privately inspected units, Burnfield said.

Private inspector Derek Worchel said he took the course so he could perform inspections for the program, and learned how the city inspections were different from the normal home inspections he performs with his business, All Services Property Maintenance.

“A regular home inspection is very detailed. You go through the whole house from top to bottom,” Worchel said. “The city inspections are more there to prevent safety and health hazards, and provide a safe environment for tenants.”

The types of things that might be called out to be repaired in the safety-focused inspection include making sure spaces are properly ventilated, the roof isn’t leaking, and carbon monoxide detectors are in place, Worchel said.

So far, he has received a very positive response both from landlords and tenants.

“They’ve all been very proactive and gotten things done within about five days or less, or gotten things done as soon as they could because there’s a big demand for contractors, so sometimes it’s hard to get people in there right away,” Worchel said. “There’s a number of examples where things are obsolete or not right, but I haven’t come across any slumlords.”

In one case, Worchel said he found a 1920s or 1930s-era building had an old ventilation shaft that wouldn’t have met the city’s inspection checklist standards, so he had to check with the city on what to do.

“I called it out, but went to the city and said it’s a ventilation shaft; I don’t see mold or mildew, so it’s working, but it’s not to the specifications,” Worchel said. “But the city said yeah, that’s fine. They’ve been really helpful at the city.”

In general, if a building was built to code when it was constructed, those items are grandfathered in under current building codes.

I think everybody that I’ve worked with has been very receptive to the program and wanted to make sure they are abiding by the program.

Trey Campbell, private home inspector

Private inspector Trey Campbell, of Fourth Corner Home Inspections, said he likes to make sure that property managers or landlords are present when he conducts inspections so they can get an idea of any deficiencies and know what steps need to be taken.

“I think everybody that I’ve worked with has been very receptive to the program and wanted to make sure they are abiding by the program,” Campbell said. “I think it’s a good program. I haven’t had any issues or concerns. I like the people I’ve had an opportunity to work with, and we’re helping people make the changes they need to make.”

Worchel said he thinks there is a lot of benefit for property owners who opt to go with private inspectors.

He answers questions from tenants and owners, and often points out other maintenance that can be done to help a property last longer.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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