Bellingham on schedule to register rental units starting July 1

As the July 1 start date for rental registration quickly approaches, city staff members are still refining elements of a new rental safety program.

In May, property owners started receiving mail informing them they’d need to register rental properties with the city between July 1 and Aug. 1.

In an update to Bellingham City Council on Monday, May 18, Planning Director Rick Sepler said his department had already gotten a lot of response from the community.

One common question was about whether or not their rental would be subject to the rule, Sepler said. A list of exemptions, along with other detailed information about the program, is available online at cob.org/rentals.

In June, the city will send out another round of information to reach any property owners not successfully contacted in the first round.

The registration website is still in initial testing, Sepler said, but should be set in time for the July 1 launch. The inspection component of the two-pronged program is still set to start no sooner than January 2016.

Registration is $8 to $10 per unit annually. So far, it looked like inspections might cost about $98 once every three years.

Council members were presented Monday with a draft of what could be the city’s enforcement strategies, but neither the enforcement guidelines nor the checklist that will be used to see if units are in compliance are in their final form yet.

Enforcement techniques for rental registration could include spot checks, such as checking Craigslist for certain types of posts and verifying that units listed as available are on the city’s registered list and in compliance.

“It will be similar to what (the state) does with fishing licenses,” Sepler said. “You don’t check everyone, but you do occasional checks.”

Once inspections start, the city will enforce violations based on their severity, Sepler said.

“It’s uncontested that if it’s a life-safety issue, it’s an immediate response,” Sepler said.

After that, illegal uses likely will trump smaller issues like inadequate parking, he said.

For some violations, the city will give the property owner a schedule for how long they have to get in compliance. The outline of what that might look like is included in the draft enforcement strategy in the May 18 council packet at cob.org/government/meeting-materials.aspx.