Kent City Council approves multifamily rental housing inspection program

Effort to protect tenants from negligent landlords

Kent City Council approves multifamily rental housing inspection program

The city of Kent will start a multifamily rental housing inspection program within the next year in an effort to protect tenants by encouraging landlords to practice proper maintenance.

The City Council approved the new ordinance on Tuesday night as part of the consent calendar, when numerous items are unanimously adopted. The council’s Economic and Community Development Committee voted 3-0 on March 12 to recommend the full seven-member council adopt the measure.

”We hope what’s before you is something you can be excited about,” said Matt Gilbert, city planning manager, to the committee prior to its vote. “It’s going to be a lot of work for us but I think it will have a real impact on the community.”

Kent modeled its program after similar ordinances in other cities, including Tukwila, which adopted a rental housing inspection program in 2011. City staff will begin to inform landlords and tenants this spring about the new law.

Landlords will be required to purchase an annual business license from the city at the cost of $12 per unit. Those fees will cover the city’s administrative costs. Landlords must hire private inspectors to perform the inspections, which will cost about $25 to $50 per unit, Gilbert said. About 30 inspectors are listed on the city of Tukwila website.

Fines for failure to obtain a business license from Kent will run $100 per day for the first 10 days and $400 per day for each day in excess of 10 days of noncompliance, according to the city ordinance.

Kent will begin the registrations this summer when landlords will be able to go on the city website to sign up.

Council President Bill Boyce asked Gilbert at the committee meeting about how staff will make sure landlords register.

“We will make it easy to register on the website for free,” Gilbert said. “We have proposed a penalty for not registering, but we don’t expect that to happen. If they don’t (register), we will call them. We don’t really know exactly how many rental units are out there or where they are, so the registration will help us understand.”

City staff estimated last fall that Kent has more than 19,000 rental units.

City officials began looking into a possible rental inspection program in 2016 after numerous complaints from renters about repairs that aren’t made by landlords. 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 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.

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.

Martin told the council committee that the goal is to register all of the landlords by the end of the year. The first inspections would begin in 2019. The city will be divided into three equal zones in order to complete inspections by 2021. A property would be subject to an inspection once every three years.

Inspectors will look for structural problems, plumbing issues or heating systems that don’t work. Other items could be electrical outlets that don’t work or windows that are broken. A checklist of items for owners and renters would be part of the inspection.

The program will apply only to multifamily rental units initially. Homes or condos that are rented will not be part of the program. City staff noted that rental homes and condos can often switch from year-to-year from ownership to rental.

Councilwoman Satwinder Kaur asked Gilbert if an unit fails inspection, would the people living there have to move?

“We would not compel them to leave unless it was dangerous to live there,” Gilbert said. “There are layers of protection to get us involved to move people around (if necessary within the complex).”

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