City plans for Safe and Healthy Housing Program

The proposed program would license rental housing like other businesses and certify that rental units meet property maintenance and related health and safety code.

The city of Renton is cooking up a program that’s aimed to better the quality of rental housing in the city.

The proposed Safe and Healthy Housing program would license rental housing like other businesses and certify that rental units meet property maintenance and related health and safety code.

Currently an estimated of 17,700 of rental properties — which accounts for about 40 percent — were built prior to 1980, according to city officials. The properties were built too quickly to house the growing truck and aerospace workforce during World War II. Many of the units are in deteriorating conditions. According to the 2014 Renton Community Needs Assessment for Human Services and Housing, many families are living in sub-standard housing that is outdated or not designed to meet the particular needs of their family in terms of size, configuration or location.

In 2016, the city developed a draft program that included a three year rotation inspection program. However, upon the suggestion of the Renton Housing Association and the city council, the officials started looking into a self-certification program, a model already in use in Tacoma and Bremerton. According to city officials, Renton, Tacoma and Bremerton all have a lower share of owner-occupied housing and a greater share of populations in poverties than in their respective counties.

Under this model, all rental housing units will require business license and registration. When landlords register their units, they will also have to provide with a self-certified inspection of their units. In theory, this process will help streamline an efficient path toward getting licenses, as well as allow the city to enforce minimum property standards.

The proposed program also updates property maintenance code standards per the National Center for Healthy Housing and King County.

With certification process, city staff would be conducting limited inspections. This means code compliance staff will inspect a unit’s exterior if a complaint is made. Interior inspections will be only made after tenants notify landlords or through a court warrant.

Landlords would be required to pay $150 annually for their business licenses. Rental registration for one to four untils would be $12 per unit annually, $10 per unit annually for five to 24 units, and $8 per unit annually for 25 units or more.

Staff is recommending to phase in the program with a one-year education and outreach program to help landlords and tenants better understand the program and encourage compliance. Tacoma implemented a similar one-year phase in program, which resulted in a greater number of compliance compared to Bremerton, according to staff.

They are also recommending a new ombudsman position to be created to provide support , education and information to landlords and tenants, as well as serve as a facilitator of the program and coordinator between the various city departments.

After a fiscal analysis, city staff found that if there was 75 percent compliance with the program, the city would see $431,888 in business license and $122,997 in rental registration, which would total to $554,885 in revenue. With 100 percent compliance, the total revenue would be $739,846, with $575,850 comprising of business licenses and $163,996 comprising of rental registrations.

The obudsman position would be a full-time position with a salary of $80,000 annually. Staff is also recommending hiring an additional code compliance inspection — at $78,000 annual salary — and a rental business license position — at $58,000 annual salary. Including benefits, the total cost for additional staff positions would be $382,000.

In a Feb. 26 Committee of the Whole meeting, council members raised several concerns and questions for staff, including how to protect against out-of-state landlords who might not be compliant with the program, penalties for landlords who fail to register for license, the role rental management companies, and how to keep tenants from bearing the extra costs imposed on landlords.

With new feedback and more details left to chisel, the draft program was referred back into Planning and Development committee. City Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance by summer of this year.