New Rental Inspection Program Packs a Punch

Daily Newspaper shutterstock_1272343108Seattle landlords are now subject to a sweeping rental inspection program that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to ferreting out problem properties.

Officials say the goal is to inspect every rental property in town.

The requirements will affect every type of rental from single family houses to large apartment buildings. Only nonprofit and government housing is exempt.

The ambitious program will be phased in over time. By July 1, 2014, all properties with 10 or more rental housing units will be inspected; by December 31, 2014, all properties with 5 to 9 rental housing units; by December 31, 2016, all properties with 1 to 4 rental housing units.

The first step is a requirement that every property be registered. Registration will require a sworn statement that the rental housing units meet a specified subset of the health and safety standards in Seattles housing code.

Registrations must be renewed every five years.

The bill provides the city the right to charge fees for the process.  The cost is yet to be determined.

Phase two of the plan is inspections, with all properties undergoing at least one inspection within the first ten years of the program. The properties will be chosen at random. Once notice is given, a landlord will have 48 hours to alert tenants in writing of any scheduled inspections.

Five years after its first required inspection, a property may again be subject to inspection.

In multi-unit properties with 20 or fewer units, two units must be inspected. In properties with more than 20 units, 15 percent of the units will be inspected up to a maximum of 50.

The City says that, although the “great majority” of rental units do meet the standards of habitability, officials fear that some violations are going unreported,either because tenants do  not realize there are violations, or are afraid to report the landlord. Despite the change in the law, the complaint-based system in place over the past few years will continue.

The new law is the result of 14 committee meetings held since 2010 to address the City’s concern over building standards in rental housing.

The measure was passed 5-0.

The new law also provides for a public database, to be made available electronically, posted on the city’s website and available for distribution to citizens or outside agencies.  Information will include the address, name of property owner, and contact information for any property with a registration that is subject to a denial or revocation under section.

The law also requires the city to track whether the fees charged to landlords actually reflect program costs.

Landlords who don’t comply with any provisions of the law are subject to fines of $150 per day for the first ten days, and $500 per day after that.  In addition, landlords face a fine of $5,000 for providing false information or information that leads to a false inspection report, and those who fail to register properties will face fines of $1,000.

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