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Monday, October 1, 2012

FUCK YES: City Council Passes New Rules for Landlords

Posted by on Mon, Oct 1, 2012 at 4:13 PM

This afternoon, the Seattle City Council unanimously* approved sweeping new measures to regulate Seattle's rental housing stock and improve the living standards of thousands of tenants.

“I have great hopes that this program will improve the conditions of renters living in substandard housing. A similar program in Los Angeles has resulted in a $1.3 billion re-investment in the City’s rental housing stock while costing tenants in LA less than $13 year,” said council member Nick Licata, chair of the council's Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee, who deserves to be blown by a choir of angels for patiently shepherding this legislation through his committee. And, of course, Praise Be to the Tenants Union of Washington, which has been working on this issue for the last five years.

As I mentioned last Friday, when signed by the mayor, the new law will:

·Require every rental property to be registered with the city (between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016, depending on the number of units), pay a registration fee, and demonstrate that it meets basic health and safety requirements.

· Allow the city to randomly select at least 10 percent of Seattle's rental stock for an annual inspection. (Inspections are capped per building to minimize owner costs. For example, a building with more than 20 units would have 15 percent or less of its units inspected.) Every five years, inspected properties will be placed back into the inspection pool when their registration expires.

· Allow landlords to select a private inspector who's been certified by the city.

· Ensure that all of the city's registered rental housing stock is inspected at least once a decade.

· Allow citizens to lodge complaints about rental units and have the Department of Planning and Development respond by inspecting that unit.

If you're a renter, you should really go read the details, now in easy-to-digest summary form (.pdf)!

*Like half the council recused themselves, but still.


Comments (46) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Yes, but is it going to actually happen?

The non-resident property owners rarely allow the peasants in Seattle to have rights ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 1, 2012 at 4:42 PM · Report this
rob! 2
I'd be curious to know where Mr. Licata found the number implying $1.3B investment in improvements by prappity owners.

Assuming this refers to L.A. city limits (rather than metro area, etc.), $13 x 783,530 occupied rental units = ~$11M if he means $13 additional cost per unit, or $13 x 2,139,036 = ~$28M if he's talking about the total number of tenants (2.73 per rental unit in L.A.).…

In my experience, landlords tend to raise rents quite quickly even if they make superficial and inexpensive cosmetic improvements, or on any mention in the press of a housing "crunch" or any economic news implying increased ability to pay.

On the other hand, the current rental vacancy rate there is 3.5% (same source), which if memory serves is high enough to provide downward pressure on rents.
Posted by rob! on October 1, 2012 at 4:49 PM · Report this
rob! 3
(The $1.3B probably includes unamortized new construction, but still.)
Posted by rob! on October 1, 2012 at 4:54 PM · Report this

My guess is that rents are going to plummet as most landlords have their properties on automatic assuming that Seattle is "so great" people pay anything to live here and now they'll have to reach into their bank accounts to make spec. That will make them want to sell, whereupon they'll be up against a 9% unemployment rate and a coming glut in new rentals.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on October 1, 2012 at 4:54 PM · Report this
This is stupid law. I hope homeowners raise rents by $100 across the board to cover the cost of something so banal and excessive.

Really? IF you live in a slum of a house with a bad landlord, you have rights even without this law!
Posted by Man_in_the_mirror on October 1, 2012 at 5:00 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 6

Tell that to people living in a slum of a house with a bad landlord. In this city, under existing law, you have two choices: move out and sue your landlord for your deposit; sue your landlord and risk retribution from someone who has a set of spare keys to your home.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 1, 2012 at 5:12 PM · Report this
great, another excuse for my douchebag landlord to raise the rent.
Posted by happy renter on October 1, 2012 at 5:17 PM · Report this
@ 3 - existing housing stock:…
@ 5 Units will be inspected only every 5-10 years (depending on random selection)...and only a sampling of units (10-15%) in multi-unit bldgs. How costly do you really think that will be? Plus the inspection will only be of 14 serious code standards...not the entire Housing Building Maintenance Code.
Posted by lisalouh on October 1, 2012 at 5:20 PM · Report this
Amen #5. One more reason not to own rentals in Seattle. I own one rental Mothers old home I inherited. Its next door to me. Its kept up as well as my own house. Now the fucking city says I have to PAY to have it inspected??? Its gonna get passed on as a fee or in the rent...that really helps poor people. Register it??? Oh hell no. Ill sell it first. One less rental in the city. One more example of the fucking nanny state in action.
Posted by HMRBEAR on October 1, 2012 at 5:20 PM · Report this
@9 - if a whole bunch of Mom's Old Place rentals suddenly go on the market, the price of houses will drop and a lot of those people currently renting might be able to buy. Go ahead and sell, though - you might find there are better things to do with the capital. Single family houses aren't very good rental properties.

This doesn't strike me as anything that anybody serious about operating residential properties would worry about. Sure its a bit of additional cost but whatever - an hour's inspection once ever 5-10 years per unit. How bad can it be? It would would out to a few bucks a month.

People running fleabags will have plenty to worry about, though.

Posted by Alden on October 1, 2012 at 5:32 PM · Report this
rob! 11
Thanks, @8. While that's not much over 14 years (<$120, roughly, per rental unit), it's almost $900 per "habitability violation," a significant amount of forced improvement. But the cost per unit hardly justifies the expense of sending out even one notice-of-rent-increase letter over that time span.
Posted by rob! on October 1, 2012 at 5:42 PM · Report this
rob! 12
(Confirms what @10 said.)
Posted by rob! on October 1, 2012 at 5:44 PM · Report this
Geraldo Riviera 13
This will fuck with weed prices.
Posted by Geraldo Riviera on October 1, 2012 at 5:50 PM · Report this
One big problem: we have a tax code that rewards waiting until things break rather than being proactive. Landlords can deduct repairs the year they're made, but improvements aren't as good a deal. Switching that around would make rental housing a lot better and life easier for the tenants.
Posted by Subdued Excitement on October 1, 2012 at 7:02 PM · Report this
If you want fair taxation, jack up the property taxes on anything beyond a primary residence.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on October 1, 2012 at 8:13 PM · Report this
See look, this is exactly what this state needs:

Rob McKenna proposes a property tax...

And they should include financial assets as property.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on October 1, 2012 at 8:16 PM · Report this
Would this allow a landlord to select property in between tenants for inspection? Does passage of this ordinance mean that renters will be subjected to an inspection of their homes by city staff an average of once every 10 years?
Posted by Phil M on October 1, 2012 at 8:58 PM · Report this
As both a landlord of a single condo unit in Seattle and a tenant in the apt I now live in, I can't comprehend how $12/year would phase a rental owner (or renter, for that matter) -- the advertising value of being able to state "registered; passed inspection" is arguably worth more than that, as is the value (for a tenant) of knowing you live somewhere that meets minimum health health and safety standards. I imagine quite of few of the large, dilapidated complexes (I'm picturing several buildings in U-district and Cap Hill...some of which I lived in in my college days) are going to have some problems with how the inspections turn out for them, but isn't that the point? Why have safety standards if we ignore it when they're not met?

@16: I dunno about that. A better move in the same direction (but requiring change at the federal level) would be to stop allowing federal mortgage interest deductions for non-primary/vacation homes.
Posted by G g on October 1, 2012 at 9:18 PM · Report this
Does this help the residents in Sisley slumhomes (oops, rental homes) in Ravenna/Roosevelt? Or will the Sisley torture our neighborhoods forever? Laws are no good if they aren't enforced.
Posted by westello on October 1, 2012 at 9:18 PM · Report this
So here is a few other issues with the whole thing:

I don't read anything that exempts people that rent a room from the code. It also precludes anyone that might have a non-conforming rental, such as a mother-in-law, to rent out. There is just too much risk, and if the renter decides to be a jerk, he could threaten the homeowner by saying they will call the city on the landlord.

This will reduce the number of available bedrooms and raise the overall rents across the city.

#10: A general inspection costs $500. There is no fine for getting it wrong. You think that with the stiff penalties associated with these inspectors they will limit the cost of this? BS.

#6. That's not true. The Landlord Tenant act is very forgiving on renters, not on homeowners. Go ahead and re-read the dang thing.

#10: SFH are the best rentals... they are much better than a condo or a co-op (if they allow them). Sure, some can buy a triplex, and that would be good, but that's cost prohibitive. Fact is that most homeowner's are accidental landlords that I know of... this prohibits them from doing such... increasing the overall cost for the whole thing. Usually people get married and buy a bigger house, selling one, but not the other. Then they are rammed with a $500 inspection fee, have to register it, pay a registration fee, and then pay for a maintenance fee if they don't manage it themselves. You want to incrase the overall cost of rentals in the city, this is the right law to pass. Create a division that support complaints, but don't make the landlords have to increase their rents!

Posted by Man_in_the_mirror on October 1, 2012 at 9:21 PM · Report this
@21: Where does it say the homeowner/lessor is responsible for an inspection fee that is $500? I read the whole thing (not just the .pdf this article links to), and it doesn't say that. The way I initially read it, it seemed that the $12 goes toward paying for the inspections of the 10% of the units -- but perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part (shouldn't this bill explicitly state how the inspections are paid for? IT DOESN"T SAY. Not even implicitly.). However, if it IS the case that the landlord pays the full cost of inspections, it would be absurd if the inspection costs were much over $100: full home inspections for prospective buyers are in the $200 to (rarely) $500 range, but those are very in-depth inspections. These rental safety inspections are simple and include exactly 13 check-boxes, all listed within the bill (examples: #10: garbage can access; CHECK; #13: working smoke detectors; CHECK).
Posted by G g on October 1, 2012 at 10:15 PM · Report this
meanie 23
Isn't this the same city council that just declared an emergency against building houses?

This plan will murder rental inventory on the short term, and I doubt it will ever recover with our current building codes. Now that people in non standard rentals are on the street, expect some dimwitted SHA ask for more money to pay for new condos on 1st hill.

Posted by meanie on October 1, 2012 at 10:44 PM · Report this
seandr 24
I understand the intention behind this law, but basically it amounts to forced gentrification.

If a landlord is forced to spend 100k updating his shithole building, he's going to raise the rent to reflect the increased market value of his improvements, and his existing tenants will be priced out.

If anything, there should be a law mandating more shithole apartments so broke people have somewhere in the city they can afford to live.

Posted by seandr on October 1, 2012 at 11:38 PM · Report this
It seems kind of dumb to crow about this law ("fuck yes") on behalf of renters in substandard housing, since this is, in effect, just a gentrification program. Landlords who clean up their slums can and will rent them for higher prices, driving more low income residents out of the city.
Posted by yuiop on October 2, 2012 at 12:12 AM · Report this
@24: If I had refreshed the page and saw your comment I could have skipped writing mine. You said it better.
Posted by yuiop on October 2, 2012 at 12:27 AM · Report this
Last of the Time Lords 27
Expect lots of those MIL apartments to be pulled off the market in a few years. Most of those landlords who have one or two units to rent out are going to be scared to find out how much money they would have to spend to be up to this new code and will probably not renew current leases and then not put those units back on the market.

The city council may have just helped increase the shortage of rental units in Seattle.
Posted by Last of the Time Lords on October 2, 2012 at 3:45 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 28
There's no way around the fact that there are horrible property owners out there. Just a month or so ago I got pulled into a situation where the landlord was trying to evict some legitimate renters because he wanted to tear down the house they were in. They had paid their rent through the end of the month, so he sent a thug with a baseball bat to the house to smash the electrical meter (which burnt up the meter base and conductors)

Another gem of a landlord took a windowless, unheated storage room in an old apartment building on First Hill and converted it to three "studio apartments" with common bath.

OTOH, my last apartment was in a building that went section eight. The condition of the building actually improved, as the Feds send inspectors out to make sure things meet their standards - and I believe they are reimbursed for at least some of those improvements.

I would say that the inspections are needed, but they should be based on tenant complaints: once a property owner has recieved, say, fifteen complaints, they are put on the list.

(And that reminds me of another thing: they need to crack down on sleazy husband/wife -or wife/wife and husband/husband- teams who put half the buildings in one name and the other half in the other's)
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on October 2, 2012 at 7:44 AM · Report this
internet_jen 29
@27 - Anyone who owned and rented out an unauthorized Mother In-law Unit before 6/30/2010 could have registered their unit with out penalty:…

Posted by internet_jen on October 2, 2012 at 9:14 AM · Report this
Bauhaus I 30
Seattle has more than its fair share of wicked landlords. If they find these new laws too cumbersome or expensive, expect to see a lot of condo conversions - not that there shouldn't be better renters' rights in Seattle.
Posted by Bauhaus I on October 2, 2012 at 9:17 AM · Report this
Anne18 32
What the hell, people?! There are a lot of renters living in slums - for you this may mean just scuzzy places, but the reality is black mold and other health hazards with very little recourse for addressing these concerns. We have inspectors for the restaurants we eat in; it seems like a no-brainer that we need them for the places we live in.
Posted by Anne18 on October 2, 2012 at 11:39 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 33
@16 has a good point.

A better idea would be to cap deductibility of taxes on all property above $250,000 valuation, and also remove it for people with earnings/dividends/options above $250,000.

This would cause the market to self-correct. Artificial subsidies at the top end are the most expensive and least productive.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 2, 2012 at 11:50 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 36
It is all about cutting out competition for the big landlords,

I know from experience that one of the worst slumlords in this city is Cornell & Associates. Fuck off.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 2, 2012 at 4:28 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 38
A building inspector is paid to find violations, and the code makes it easy to do that.

I guess you missed the part where building owners can hire their own inspectors.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 2, 2012 at 4:36 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 40

That company is a huge landlord in this city. Your argument is invalid.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 2, 2012 at 4:37 PM · Report this
LEE. 43

my ex and I managed a building of theirs years back and I can say this is a true statement.
Posted by LEE. on October 2, 2012 at 5:12 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 46

I guess if you're right, you can come back in several years (the law doesn't take effect until 2014, just FYI) and make us eat crow. But I hope you'll forgive me if I don't take your message of doom and destruction seriously.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 47

I should add, especially when your message of doom and gloom is couched in so much reactionary anti-tax bullshit. The seawall? Really? Fuck off.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 2, 2012 at 6:04 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 48
Mister G, I won't presume to speak for the water department (water and electricity don't mix) but you need to study up on your 30% electricity rate increase claim.

The theoretical 30% is over the course of six years, but if you look at the proposal, the lower block residential (which most apartments stay well within) actually goes down a bit, at least for the first few years. It's the homeowners and home renter who will take a hit.

Additionally, that theoretical barista which you speak of may very well qualify for the 60% discounted electrical rate. A household of theoretical baristas might as well. The income requirements are not onerous.

There are, I believe, similar programs for water/sewer. But you will have to talk to them directly: 684-3000

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on October 2, 2012 at 7:11 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 51
Again, Mr. G. You need to read up on what you are talking about.

The VOTER PASSED initiative (I-977?) does say that utilities need to add renewable energy to their portfolio, but the wind power SCL purchases is not "unneeded": City Light just buys it as needed to meet demand - just as they do any other power source.

And while you are right that hydro is not considered renewable under the terms of that initiative, it is not classified the same as coal power, which is actively being phased out in Washington State (again, because of that pesky democratic process)

Finally, I don't know what the effect on the lower residential block is for the whole term of the rate increase. It could be that it always stays low. I frankly didn't bother to look that far out. But facts are things that just make you all tense and nervous when you are trying to make some sort of inane point, aren't they?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on October 2, 2012 at 8:03 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 53
"And yeah, you're right. The standard of living for the worker bees here is truly 'some sort of inane point.' "

Only when you attempt to make it, dear.....
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on October 2, 2012 at 8:33 PM · Report this
psbirch 55
So i'm confused about the nay-sayers' argument here.

Assume a 20-unit building gets 3 units inspected (15% * 20, rounded up) every 10 years, at a rate of (worst case mentioned) $500 per inspection. If you amortize that cost over 20 units and 120 months you're looking at a per-month, per-apartment cost of about 63 cents. On the other end of the scale, a single family home rented out would see an increase of about $4.17 per month over the same, 120 month period for a single $500 inspection. If you want to add in a hour or three of labor you're still looking at a relatively negligible increase against the base rent. There may be other costs associated with registration, but that $12/mo average increase is looking pretty reasonable an estimate.

The only way to raise these costs is if there are violations that are found in the code that require significant costs to resolve. But that's the whole point of the law -- to ensure property owners are not endangering their tenants by allowing their standards of their property to lapse since their purchase. If anything it ensures that buildings are maintained at code fairly consistently throughout their lifespan, as opposed to just periodically as they're sold from entity to entity.

How is this not a good thing?
Posted by psbirch on October 3, 2012 at 1:06 PM · Report this
See also: "Renters Have Privacy and Property Rights Too," by Ilya Shapiro, Cato @ Liberty blog, October 1, 2012,…

Shapiro writes:

A person’s home is his castle and thus affords certain protections and immunities — including the right to exclude unwanted visitors — that apply whether you own or rent.

Unfortunately, ordinances authorizing general administrative searches of rental properties have been increasingly adopted by local authorities with little protection for privacy interests. These inspections reach the whole of the buildings and all of the activity that occurs within, opening up every aspect of people’s lives to the government: political and religious affiliations, intimate relationships, and even all those Justin Bieber posters and Fifty Shades of Gray books you hide when people come over.
Posted by Phil M on October 3, 2012 at 1:11 PM · Report this
$750 a month can pay off a house in 15 years? In what universe? One that doesn't charge interest and where utilities, maintenance and residual costs are free and there's no property taxes?
Posted by Gomez on October 4, 2012 at 4:37 PM · Report this
Did the council members who recused themselves do so because they are landlords or because they are renters?
Posted by SEANIEPANTS on October 4, 2012 at 10:50 PM · Report this
How obnoxious and self-righteous landlords in Seattle, United States are? Well, here's a story for you.

C&C Properties has rented out a house at:
1901 N 80th Street
Seattle, WA 98103…

After 4 months living there oven broke. Specifically, it auto-locked itself, was beeping every 5 minutes, and thus, wasn't usable. Tenants have requested landlord C&C Properties to fix it. After 3 weeks of dealing with Rae Wang and Kevin, who manage this property, a technician came and fixed it.

Everything fine so far, except that Kevin has shifted blame for breaking of the oven onto tenants. Apparently, now tenants are not allowed to use "self clean" button on the oven.

But let's hear it in Kevin's own words:
"based the appliance technician's suggestion, future usage of 'self clean' function would be considered a user negligence on this oven. Please take this as a notice that no 'self clean' function will be used on this oven in the future (it needs to be hand cleaned)."
Posted by shiftеr on February 25, 2013 at 10:02 PM · Report this
This above posting is a very passive aggressive in nature. It also releases private information and abuses this conversation. A tenant should take responsibility of his/her negligence. If knowing wood floor will be ruined if sitting in water, you still poor water on it, you abuses. Sound like that is what you did- wanting to perform a function on an appliance knowing you already broke it.
Posted by wasmoothie on December 15, 2014 at 3:24 PM · Report this

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