Bellingham council could vote on rental registration, inspection in December

City Council members plan to consider a revised rental registration and inspection program at the last regular meeting of the year, Dec. 15.

Though details were not nailed down during a work session Monday, Nov. 24, the council continued work amending a registration-only ordinance and adding an inspection requirement to the proposal.

Planning and legal staff plan to come up with the language of the ordinance using the council’s amendments and present it in December.

Some of the changes approved Monday included language requiring inspections at regular intervals, eliminating one of the proposed exemptions, and striking a sunset clause that would have eliminated the program after a few years if council didn’t take additional action. The sunset clause would be replaced with a scheduled time to review the program’s effectiveness.

Bellingham’s legislative body has considered various options for a rental registration program for at least a decade. The most recent vote on an ordinance took place in 2011, when the then-council voted down a proposal to require registration and spot inspections.

In 2013, council opted to take another swing at putting some type of rental safety program together.

In July of this year, council chose to move forward with a registration-only ordinance, which would require most property owners to register their rental units and state they comply with certain safety code requirements.

But after a public hearing Oct. 27, at which many people spoke in favor of inspections while dozens spoke against even a simple registration program, council members brought the ordinance back to the table and directed staff to draw up numbers for the cost of requiring inspections.

City staff are close to compiling detailed cost estimates for inspecting the roughly 8,300 rental units that would be subject to the measure, asking how often inspections might feasibly take place, and trying to figure out the earliest start date that wouldn’t come at an undue cost, Planning Director Rick Sepler told council members Monday.

It looked like October 2015 would be the earliest an inspection program might start, Sepler said, while a potential start for the registration program is proving to be more challenging to figure out.

One option for processing registrations might be to use a licensing feature of new permitting software scheduled to be installed in the Planning and Community Development Department next year, Sepler said. October also would be the earliest that software might be put to use.