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Bellingham will play a bigger role in rental inspections

Law aims to hold landlords accountable, ensure tenants have homes that are up to code

The Bellingham City Council voted to adopt a rental registration and safety inspection ordinance on Monday, Feb 26. (Trenton Almgren-Davis/Cascadia Daily News)
By Jemma Alexander News Intern

Bellingham landlords may no longer self-certify that their properties are up to code. A more transparent process will now require property owners to go through the city inspector or a private inspector to be awarded rental registration.  

In efforts to hold landlords accountable and ensure tenants have homes that are up to code, the Bellingham City Council voted to adopt a new rental registration and safety inspection ordinance on Monday evening, Feb. 26.  

In the fall, the city raised inspection and registration fees on landlords in an effort to revamp an 8-year-old rental inspection program. 

The goal of the fees is to incentivize landlord compliance. This money will also help fund administrative positions for the safety inspection ordinance.  

All council members voted to raise the fees on landlords, but many voiced concerns about the allowance of private inspectors.  

Council member Dan Hammill has said inspections conducted by private inspectors have a much lower rate of failure than those done by the city.  

On the other hand, 26% of units inspected by the city fail their first inspection, Blake Lyon, director of the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, previously told Cascadia Daily News.

With the new ordinance, private inspectors are required to report any failures to the city and allow the planning department up to 100% access to all units owned by the landlord if even one of their units fails an inspection.  

Private inspectors may be subject to city audits, to observe how inspections are conducted, Lyon said in a Feb. 12 meeting. 

Every three years, properties must be reinspected by the city or a private inspector. All new rental units will now be subject to the new requirements, but pre-existing rentals will only be required to have a city or private inspection once the three-year mark rolls around.  

Not all inspection failures will be responded to in the same way. Failures that are more egregious and widespread amid multiple properties will be addressed first, Lyon said.  

“We are going to have to prioritize some of that workload in a manner that we feel is justified for the resources that we have available,” he told city council.  

Former council member Kristina Michelle Martins, alongside Tenants Revolt, got the ball rolling on this ordinance when she proposed a draft that would take away city-issued rental registration certificates and expect landlords to relocate tenants on their own dime if they fail inspections.    

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