Most Bellingham rental owners meet registration deadline

It looks like most property owners in the city met the deadline to register their rental units under a citywide rental safety program.

About 14,340 of an estimated 15,000 units that are subject to the program have been registered, which puts the participation rate at about 96.4 percent, according to the city’s preliminary look at the submitted paperwork. The submissions have not yet been verified.

The number of registered units includes some that won’t be subject to an inspection process that has yet to be finalized. Inspections could start in 2016 and happen once every three years per unit, with some exceptions.

Exactly what will be on the inspection checklist hasn’t been determined, but it will be limited to health and safety issues.

City Planning Director Rick Sepler gave City Council an update on the new program during an afternoon meeting Monday, Aug. 10, noting that the registrations still need to be entered into a database and checked against tax parcel numbers.

“We’ve had a very high rate of return, and this has been a successful exercise,” Sepler told the council.

Council member Roxanne Murphy asked what would be next as far as enforcement of fines against owners who didn’t meet the Aug. 1 deadline.

Sepler said the city has suspended fines for the time being, and will spend the next several months making sure they have gotten in touch with every property owner before enforcing fines. He expected some owners might still be unaware of the requirement, through no fault of their own.

“I should note those who haven’t registered may not have been trying to thwart the process,” Sepler said. “I would say the vast majority are willful participants, though some participating gave concerns when they submitted their payment.”

Registration is $8 to $10 per unit, depending on the number of units on a property.

There also may be some owners who are refusing to participate, Sepler said. A few people called and left anonymous messages with the city saying they would not register their rentals.

“It’s not clear if they did register in the end, or not,” Sepler said in an interview. “At the end of the day, the vast majority have registered, and that’s a huge success.”

After the city is sure that an owner knows about the program, staff will give that owner written notice with a deadline to register or face fines. The goal is not to be punitive, Sepler said, but to get everyone registered.

After the registration information has been entered into a database, the city plans to release a PDF of registered properties at cob.org/rentals so tenants can find out if their property has been registered. That will likely go on the website near the end of the month.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.