While it isn’t yet ready to implement more aggressive programs like permitting temporary housing, Seattle will begin stepping up its efforts at encouraging owners with properties lined up for development to either keep the buildings in use or make sure they don’t become neighborhood safety issues with squatters and drug use.
Seattle’s new increased oversight of vacant buildings starts in June:
New processes for inspection of vacant buildings take effect on June 1, 2019. The changes add a wider range of properties to the City’s Vacant Building Monitoring program, including all properties with active development proposals containing a vacant building. The frequency of inspections will increase from once a quarter to once a month. We estimate that this will add approximately 1,200 new properties to the program this year and can reduce the risk of vacant buildings becoming a blight on the community. In the past, SDCI monitored around 100 properties each year with consistent vacant building violations.
Last fall, CHS reported on efforts to study better methods for monitoring the city’s steady of flow of vacant buildings including the possibility of formalizing a program to match landlords of vacant buildings with organizations that can temporarily put the property to use in housing programs like Weld Seattle and Mary’s Place or with arts groups coordinating with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture to house an art space..
While adding more muscle to those opportunities will still require new legislation, the bill passed during the latest budget round at City Hall will mean every property in development that includes a vacant building to be enrolled in the city’s monitoring program during the permit application process.
Properties will be inspected at least three times under the program. If inspectors find no violations, the owners will be charged at the lowest monitoring fee rate. Properties must have no violations for three consecutive monthly inspections in order to be removed from the program.
The new legislation also raised the vacant building monitoring fees by 3%. Per inspection fees are charged in three levels:
- Vacant but no violations: $261.40
- Vacant with violations but not open to entry: $435
- Vacant and open to entry: $521.75
In addition to the increased costs, the frequency of inspections will also rise from quarterly to monthly.
Some landlords will, to be sure, go ahead and the eat the fees.
“In 2016 and 2017, we experienced a dramatic increase in complaints about vacant buildings including unauthorized entry, accumulation of junk around structures, and public safety issues such as fires, rodent infestations, and criminal activity,” the city’s announcement on the new oversight reads.
In addition to trying to better address public safety issues, city officials also hope the new rules will help keep more people in their homes longer even as the development process on a property begins to play out. “We encourage owners to explore ways to keep buildings occupied during the permitting process,” the announcement reads. “This extends the use of existing housing and maintains a better property condition for the community.”
In addition the expanded monitoring the program, the city says it will also continue to operate its “complaint-based system to respond to vacant buildings.” Neighbors who see a vacant building that is not properly secured by the owner can call (206) 615-0808 or visit the Seattle Services Portal to file a complaint.
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