Kent looks to start rental housing inspection program

Work continues on draft policy that could be adopted next year.

Renters could start getting help next year to resolve maintenance problems with landlords as the city of Kent works to start a rental housing inspection program.

Matt Gilbert, city planning manager, told the City Council’s Economic and Community Development Committee (ECDC) that staff plans to have an ordinance in front of the group in March.

The committee received a draft policy at its Nov. 13 meeting. City staff began looking into a possible rental inspection program more than a year ago after numerous complaints from renters about repairs that aren’t made by landlords.

“It’s a broad scope to the issue and there is a lot of interest in the issue,” Gilbert said. “We want a policy to address the issue. This is a rental housing inspection program, so it’s somewhat limited.”

Seattle-based Futurewise, a group that helps oversee livability and housing issues, along with Living Well Kent, a community-based group, helped city staff organize three meetings last summer for renters that drew nearly 200 participants.

“The city and consultant team will be spending the next few months talking to stakeholders and incorporating their feedback into a final policy recommendation for consideration by the ECDC and ultimately the City Council,” Gilbert said.

Tiernan Martin, of Futurewise, helped write a draft policy based on feedback from renters as well as looking at rental inspection programs in the cities of Tukwila, Bellingham and Lakewood.

The inspection programs are designed to protect tenants by encouraging proper maintenance of rental housing. The city inspections identify and require correction of substandard housing conditions, and to prevent deterioration and blight that could impact the quality of life for residents.

Martin explained to the council committee that the purpose of the program is to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents. Under the proposal, all owners of rental properties would need to register with the city and be subject to regular visits by city inspectors. Whether inspections are annual or up to every three years remains to be determined.

Kent has more than 19,000 rental units, which is about 46 percent of all housing units in the city, according to city documents. A more accurate number of rental units is expected once owners register with the city.

“The focus will be on minimum standards of health and safety,” Martin said. “That could include electrical outlets that don’t work, windows that are broken — are in the scope of the program.”

Inspectors also would look for structural problems, plumbing issues or heating systems that don’t work.

A checklist of items for owners and renters would be part of the inspection.

The first inspections would start about six months after the ordinance is adopted by the council. The policy also would include re-inspections to make sure problems are resolved. Fines against landlords would be a final step. The amount of the fines has yet to be set.

“We want to do it right, and get feedback,” Council President Bill Boyce said. “There’s also urgency around this and issues in Kent to address, so we would like to push to get it done as soon as possible.”

City staff will reach out to a couple of landlord groups to get feedback about the draft policy.

Councilman Jim Berrios asked Gilbert if renters would be protected from retaliation if they make a complaint about conditions to a landlord.

“We want the program to be proactive with inspections so they won’t need to retaliate because the city is coming regardless,” Gilbert said.

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