In a city that prides itself on being socially progressive, the American Housing Survey found that “nearly 10 percent of Seattle area rental housing had ‘moderate to severe’ physical problems.” This prompted the city of Seattle to implement a new ordinance, the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance, that will require landlords to register their rental property upon passing an inspection. The ordinance will be phased in starting in July 2014, with the last deadline being December 2016. (See the specific deadlines and standards for inspection.) As yet, there has not been much talk about the consequences or implications of this ordinance. I am in favor of it.
Although it will be costly for landlords who take shortcuts, it is a protection that is long overdue. Until now, Seattle (and the rest of Washington state) has had a complaint-based system, while this ordinance is preventative in nature. The Landlord-Tenant Act allows a tenant to withhold rent and pay it into an escrow account if the condition of the property substantially endangers or impairs the health or safety of a tenant. However, the tenant must first make a good-faith showing that he or she is unable to repair the conditions and must have complied with complicated notice provisions. The tenant also bears the burden of notifying the government official (RCW 59.18.115). A lot can happen between 10-year inspections, but at least it is better than never. I have seen and heard of tenants living without power, water, and other basic needs we take for granted, for months or even years. This is unacceptable.
One of the city’s objectives is to educate property owners about this process and the standard of maintenance expected. None of the standards are prohibitive. Our job as counselors and advisors is also to educate our clients about the best way to do business. If landlord-tenant attorneys are successful in educating landlords and helping them understand how to comply, it should not really affect them. Landlords who have properly maintained their property will pass inspection and be ready to let, while their less-than-diligent competition will not pass. Essentially, it will reward the good landlords and weed out the bad ones. I say way to go, Seattle!