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Random rental inspections now underway across Seattle

In March, some tenants at The Broadmoor on First Hill were fighting with the property owner over the condition of their building.

In March, some tenants at The Broadmoor on First Hill were fighting with the property owner over the condition of their building.

Housing inspectors have started making random visits to some 90,000 apartment units in Seattle as part of a law to ensure landlords are meeting basic housing safety standards.

Inspections under the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance went into effect late last month after the city council passed the program in 2013. The RRIO uses a 44-point checklist that covers issues such as leaks, exposed wires, and broken water heaters.

“No one in Seattle should be forced to live with a roof that leaks, a toilet that doesn’t flush, or an unreliable heating system,” said Mayor Ed Murray in a statement last month. “By registering rental properties and conducting random inspections, we can help ensure that these properties meet the basic standards that any of us would expect.”

So far, 45 buildings have been inspected out of 100 that have been notified, according to the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Historically, the city relied on renters to file complaints with the city against their landlords, but many renters didn’t know how to file complaints or felt intimated to not report violations.

Landlords will get at least 60 days notice before a property is inspected and renters must have at least two day’s notice before the inspection date. Inspections are carried out by either city inspectors or private inspectors trained by the city.

All properties with 10 or more units should have registered by September 30, 2014. All properties with 5-9 units should have registered for the program by March 31, 2015. The city has estimated that up to 10 percent of rental homes have moderate to severe problems.

Meanwhile, tenants rights and affordable housing is shaping up as a key issue in the race in the Council District 3 race. Expected frontrunner City Council member Kshama Sawant has made lifting the state ban on rent control her top issue in the campaign.

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20 thoughts on “Random rental inspections now underway across Seattle

  1. The first our non-profit heard about the requirement to register our little privately-subsidized building was the notice that we were late and subject to a fine. Had to pay over $200 in fees — on a building where the rents are subsidized by donors for formerly homeless seniors. How much does the city help our program?


  2. The pricing seems excessively skewed to favor institutional landlords over small property owners — $175 for 1 unit, $179 for 3 units, vs. $373 for 100 units?

    Given the current condition of new (or newly renovated) housing in so much of Capitol Hill (and particularly of the housing slated for construction through 2019), this feels like more of a financial extortion effort from owners of new properties than an earnest attempt at focusing inspection where it’s needed most.

  3. Not real sure how much this will help. Oh, great, the landlords get a 60 day notice. How’s that random? We’ve had things missing or broken for way longer than that. But they get a heads up to at least bandaid the situation, while we risk losing a considerable amount of money to get out?

  4. This seems to be more of a revenue raiser for city, better to just rely on tenants to complain and then inspect.

    • I absolutely agree with you, Frank.

      Having paid for a home inspection recently, It’s around $500 for a comprehensive inspection and does NOT identify all the things people think it does.

  5. I think the inspections are good. They may uncover hazards that the average person (renter) isn’t able to see or have knowledge of. And some property owners may have hazards they are unaware of. No issues with a 60 days notice. If that gives the owners time to address things like fire extinguisher inspections, fix leaky pipes, whatever, then thats in everyones best interest and allows the inspectors to focus on less obvious but potentially more serious issues.

    I’m not sure of the process or level of difficultly but the focus should also be on tenant education and ensuring ease to submit concerns. The safety and security of everyone should be priority.

    • Seems like a good idea to me–I lived in a place that had no heating source in the bathroom, and it got as cold as a highway rest stop toilet in the winter. Now I see that this situation was “a significant maintenance issue that if present, must be fixed in order to register an occupied unit or before renting an unoccupied unit”. Maybe this will help.

      The fees are good for FIVE years, so I don’t think it’s that onerous for property owners.

  6. This may be a good idea, but it’s costs will be passed along to tenants and it may contribute to the increasing lack of affordable housing in Seattle. The registration fee does hit smaller owners disproportionately because each additional unit registered only costs a few dollars more. So, large properties pay a much lower cost per unit.

    Of course there is the cost of the inspection itself, which must be added to the cost of the registration fee before determining how much this will all cost. The final cost really depends on the condition of the property and the level of detail pursued by the inspector, who will be doing a fairly extensive inspection based on a checklist. Such an inspection could turn up many minor issues in older Seattle apartments, which would further increase the cost of coompliance.

    Since the program is new it is hard to say what effects it may have. I personally am selling a property containing a very nice mother-in-law apartment because the unit will likely require considerable modification (ceiling heights) to comply with the inspection requirements. This unit housed many happy tenants over the years and was recently rented for $800 monthly, including off-street parking, shared yard, laundry and storage. I fear these affordable units will be no more, and the costs of others will rise as a result. It will be torn down to make room for $650,000 townhouse units. No doubt they would comply with all inspection requirements.

    • I don’t see where buildings with 1 or 2 units is required to register. Only buildings of 5 or more having to register.

      Personally I see it as a method the City is using to force people out of lower rent units and will result in the properties being sold to the developers we already have issues with.

      I don’t feel good about all of this program.

      • OK I re-read the page on the City’s website. It’s nice of them to provide NO real schedule for buildings with 4 or fewer units. So are they just going to fine people at will?

        Yeah, I’m in agreement it’s mostly a big old money grab for the City.

  7. Wow. I don’t have a heat vent in my bedroom in my 1910 house. It’s totally fine for me; I don’t like the heat on when I sleep. But I guess I won’t be renting it out anytime soon.

  8. This is absolutely necessary. Seattle is one of the few cities in the country that doesn’t have regular inspections of rental property. Even in red state Virginia, this is the norm!

    Seattle had to implement this ordinance somewhat quickly because the state passed a law forbidding cities that hadn’t already done so from setting up these inspection systems. It’s baffling to me that it’s taken this long for something that is a no-brainer. The old system of only relying on complaints was useless.

  9. Remember that recent article: want affordable rents? Go vintage!
    Well so much for that advise! Thanks city council

  10. The only reason I can afford to live in this neighborhood is that my building is significantly sketchy. Choosing to live in an under-maintained building is a trade-off I choose. I rent a studio in a ~100 y/o building for $820. I’m happy with it. I shudder to think what it would cost if my building management were forced to bring things up to code. Browsing the checklist, the items I notice right away that apply to my unit: no working vent in bathroom, no heat in bathroom, garbage & recycling accumulates around dumpsters. I’m also fairly certain that my smoke detector doesn’t function and the lower level of our building is not secure. I’m fine with all of that except the lack of security. (You can’t have both no kitchen vent and a working smoke detector!)

    • Broken vent fans, increasing frequency (or cleaning up around) dumpsters is easy. Locks and smoke detectors are cheap (less than $20) for both. Really, this list of deficiencies is inexcusable – especially lacking smoke detectors. Most buildings of your vintage have boilers with a heat pipe running though the bathroom. Its odd you don’t have one.

      Correcting these basic issues shouldn’t impact your rent and are items you should expect no matter what you pay for rent.

      • because a boiler is a BOILER it’s water heat. it doesn’t cause a fire in the bathroom. You might get scalded if the pipe breaks, but that’s an entirely different item on the list.

        Old buildings don’t have bathroom fans Never did. If they do now, they don’t go anywhere.

      • You sound really jaded for some reason. There are many hazards that can create fires and the source doesn’t have to occur inside that room for a smoke detector to be effective. Smoke detectors save lives and at $10 a piece, there are no reasons to go without them.

  11. Buildings with one or two units do have to register, but later than larger buildings. Registration also proceeds by zipcode, with my 98112 properties needing to be registered by June 2016. The Rental Housing Association has been very good about getting information out about this proposal.

    This system will tend to raise rents and suppress the number of marginal, affordable units in the area, at least in the near term.

  12. I am landlord. I keep my rents lower b/c the building requires some maintenance, tenants obviously made a trade off and are happy with the low rent.
    If these inspections will require me to spend any significant amount of money, I doubt that I will be able to keep the rent low.
    These inspections will force many older buildings to upgrade and increase rent which will me make the affordability issue even worse.
    In addition some bedrooms which were either too small or have too small of a window will not longer could be used as bedroom. So many such bedrooms/departments will be taken out of the rental inventory.
    Tenants currently have choices: pay low rent and live in a place that require some maintenance or pay high rent and live in apartment with perfect condition.
    Once the inspection are enforced tenants will no longer have these choices.

    If i am a renter i would write to the city council and mayor asking them to stop these inspection, they do not make sense in a tight rental market like ours.

  13. One more way for government to get it’s foot in the door, literally. Spend a smaller portion of money on educating rentors of their rights & let the natural supply & demand laws fall into place. If the landlord can’t attract tenants or has to lower rents to get tenants or fix the problems, so be it. The government doesnt need to be coming into our homes uninvited, whether we’re the tenant or the owner.