Starting this month in the city of Kent, apartment and four-plex owners will be required to conduct inspections every three years to ensure their units are safe and healthy for their tenants.
The city developed the program in partnership with local community organizations based on concerns voiced by renters about health and safety issues in their apartments such as heating, plumbing and electrical.
“It was pretty eye-opening to hear of residents dealing with basic quality-of-life issues like a broken heater or leaking roof,” said Erin George, city planning manager, in a news release. “This program is specifically aimed at solving those problems and improving living conditions.”
The City Council adopted the ordinance in 2018. The cost of the program will be offset by increased annual business license fees for apartment rental owners, initially anticipated to be $13 per unit.
Letters went out in early March to landlords who own properties in the first inspection area, North East Hill. The program will divide the city into three segments with Highway 167 and James Street as the boundaries:
2019: North East Hill (North of James Street)
2020: West Hill/ Valley
2021: South East Hill (South of James Street)
Each property must have 20 percent of their units inspected by a qualified private inspector hired by the landlord from the city’s approved list. Properties that do not meet the health and safety standards will need to make repairs and pass a re-inspection prior to renewing their business license; failure to do so may result in penalty fees and business license revocation.
Landlords can expect a $13 per unit program fee with their business license and a $15 per building fee for online submittal of inspection results. Online submission will open May 1 with proof of passed inspection required by Nov. 1.
Tenants can expect to receive up to two notices from their landlord: the first notifying them about the program and the second if their unit is selected for inspection. Forty-eight hours notice to tenants is required by state law.
The following housing types are exempt from the inspection requirement: single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, condos, mobile homes, manufactured homes, hotels, motels, institutions, shelters, transitional housing and rental units owned, operated, managed or inspected by a government agency.
“The rental housing inspection program sprang from the grass roots of Kent’s tenant community, who worked to bring our attention to maintenance problems in their homes,” said Matt Gilbert, Economic and Community Development deputy director. “The city will work with landlords to help make sure apartment units are kept in safe and healthy condition. Since rental housing makes up about 46 percent of housing units in Kent, most of which are apartments, we expect this program to help a lot of Kent residents.”
The council directed staff to begin developing the program in late 2016. With help from Living Well Kent and Futurewise, the city hosted a number of stakeholder meetings and researched similar programs developed by other cities.
“Since 2014 Living Well Kent has been working in advancing toward achieving the vision of changing policies and creating healthy environments for Kent residents including refugees and immigrants,” said Shamso Isaak, executive director for Living Well Kent.
Landlords will be required to hire professional inspectors to check apartments for maintenance of basic health and safety standards. Successful inspections must be completed prior to issuance of an annual business license, which apartment owners are already required to obtain.
Owners who are out of compliance will be assessed a penalty of $100 for each day that a residential housing unit operates without a valid and current business license, for the first 10 days of noncompliance, and up to $400 for each day in excess of 10 days of noncompliance.
For more information, visit KentWA.gov/rentalhousinginspection.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated online from an earlier version.