Seattle Courant

City Council Committee Discusses Regulating Rental Housing

By Andrea Cirignano
February 11, 2009 09:02PM

Members of a group called the Cedar River Group presented a council-funded report about rental housing conditions in the Seattle area and options to fix them.

"There is a reason that cities are in the business of regulating rental housing," Claire Powers, with Cedar River Group, said. She said that among other things, regulation protects citizens, and a new program could establish minimum requirements for rentals.

Michael Jenkins, a council central staff member, said it's important to regulate rentals in Seattle because "rental housing comprises half of our housing stock."

However, Councilmember Nick Licata said today, "There isn't support on the council for an inspection program." He said that he's hoping for at least warrant authority, so the city can investigate shoddy conditions if need be. Licata said the Rental Housing Association is fighting any sort of regulation.

According to Powers, the city of Seattle conducted a pilot project in the late 1980s and discovered that 13 percent of randomly selected rental housing properties had moderate to severe code violations.

According to Powers, right now, the city has a complaint-based program so the only way to know if a rental is up to code is if a tenant files a complaint, but filing a complaint can be a difficult process for some residents.

In order to make recommendations for a new rental inspection program in Seattle, Cedar River Group reviewed codes and programs used by other cities, including Los Angeles, Portland and New Haven, Connecticut, as well as Pasco, Washington.

"There's a desire among council members to see the rental housing in good condition," said Sally Clark, chair of the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods committee. "The question is how to do so."