Bellingham may require landlords to register rental properties

City Council will take input on a proposed $200,000-per-year rental regulation program that would require owners to register rental properties each year and certify they are safe to live in, but it would not include regular inspections.

A public hearing on the rental-registration ordinance will take place during the regular 7 p.m. council meeting Monday, Oct. 27, in council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

The hearing is the latest stage in a years-long debate about whether the city should create some type of enhanced inspection program and/or require rental owners to register with the city to help root out problem properties.

If the registration-only ordinance is passed, owners would have to register each year and post copies of registration in rental units starting in July 2015, according to city documents.

The fee to register wouldn’t be finalized until council votes to set a fee structure, but staff estimates show that to pay for the program, which could cost the city around $200,000 per year to operate, owners would need to pay about $20 to $40 if they own one to four units, $75 to $150 for five to 19 units, and $150 to $300 for properties with 20 or more units, according to a memo sent to council.

Those numbers are not far from those in a 2011 proposal that would have called for random inspection of a certain percentage of the city’s rentals each year. That program was expected to run property owners $24 per rental unit to cover $300,000 per year for administrative and inspection costs. Then-council members voted down the proposal, which would have required property owners submit a form stating their rentals complied with city health and safety codes.

The current proposal includes a similar requirement — property owners would have to certify that each of their rental units meet building code and state standards. That includes declaring that all units have the minimum floor area for a habitable room; meet minimum standards for sanitation, structure, occupancy, heating, ventilation and electrical systems; meet requirements for emergency escape windows and doors, waste removal and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms; have fire sprinkler systems if required, and are fit for human habitation as described by state law.

If the city were to get notice of a code violation that could impact the health or safety of a tenant, it could require an owner to submit a “certificate of inspection” done by a qualified rental housing inspector or city building code enforcement officer.

Owners who violate the ordinance could be fined up to $200 per day for the first 10 days, and $500 per day after that until they come into compliance.

To read the proposed ordinance and public comments from proponents and opponents of the measure, view city council meeting materials online at cob.org/government/meeting-materials.aspx.