Mandatory Rental Housing Inspections Coming to Seattle

By Joshua Fant

“In the past month the Seattle Councilmembers passed new legislation which will enact a new, mandatory rental housing registration and inspections program. The program will go through a one year education process in 2013, and properties will be required to register with the City starting July 1, 2014.
Mandatory inspections of rental housing properties will also begin in 2014 on a random basis from the pool of registered properties, and all rental properties will be inspected at least once over a 10-year period.
While RHA successfully lobbied the Council and DPD for many technical corrections, changes to definition and procedural changes within the legislation, we do not agree that a mandatory inspections program of all properties is necessary or warranted. Thankfully, many of those changes lobbied for by RHA will ensure the program is easily compre hendible and transparent in how it will function. Of those amendments supported by RHA to be included in the legislation–that which is likely of greatest significance to rental housing owners–is a rule which will allow lender inspections, of comparable scope to those required by the City, to be used as a substitute for a mandatory third-party inspection.
RHA was also able to have a full 10 -year rev iew of the program included within the legislation to ensure that the inspections program is reevaluated and its future necessity is weighed.
RHA actively worked this issue for quite literally, years, and met with City Council, City staff, DPD, and tenant groups to find some sources of relief for the overwhelming majority of good rental properties which are going to be subjected to the burdensome new program being created. Unfortunately, perhaps the most crucial details of the legislation, the costs of registration and inspections, and what exactly the stan dards of inspections will be, are not detailed within the legislation and are being left up to Director’s rule within the City’s Department of Planning and Development. Final details on those two issues are likely to be unresolved until the summer of 2013.
Deadlines for registration are:

· July 1, 2014

· All properties with 10+ units must be registered

· January 1, 2015 · All properties with 5­9 units must be registered

· December 31, 2016

· All properties with 1­4 units must be registered

The new program will require:

· Registration must be renewed every five years.

· Inspections of at least 10% of all rental units will be required in any given year. · Any property subject to inspection must be inspected at least once every ten years, and on an annual basis 10% of all properties last inspected over five years ago will be re-inspected. Inspections cannot be more frequent than once every five years.
· For properties with 20 or less unit, inspections of no fewer than two units.
· For properties of more than 20 units, inspections of at least 15% of units, up to a maximum of 50 units.
· Require that inspectors verify a rental unit meets minimum require ment standards of the City’s housing code related to floor area, sanitation, structural, sheltering, maintenance, heating, ventilation, electrical, emergency escape, garbage removal, extermination, keys and locks, gar bage cans, and smoke detectors.”

*This article was written by Sean Martin of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound.