Politics & Government

Lakewood to landlords: Rental-unit inspections coming

As soon as next summer, Lakewood landlords could be required to submit to city-mandated inspections of their rental units.

The requirement comes after the Lakewood City Council approved a controversial rental housing safety inspection program Monday night.

Voting 6-1, council members said the program is a proactive solution to a problem that has plagued the city since before its 1996 incorporation.

“I’m really tired of being that one city with ‘down and out’ neighborhoods,” Councilman Jason Whalen said before voting.

City officials hope requiring rental properties to undergo regular checks will change that reputation.

The program requires rental property owners to obtain a “cerfiticate of inspection” every five years. The goal is to identify substandard properties and fix problems so tenants, especially those that are low-income, aren’t forced to live in deplorable living conditions.

“Other cities with similar housing stocks have done similar programs,” Councilman Paul Bocchi said. “I really do think it’s going to be effective. Good landlords will profit by it.”

Lakewood has more rental properties than other Washington cities of similar size, and many of its multifamily units were built more than 50 years ago, city officials say.

I’m really tired of being that one city with ‘down and out’ neighborhoods.”

Lakewood City Councilman Jason Whalen

Officials estimate 10 to 15 percent of Lakewood’s rental properties are substandard, based on data from other Washington cities with similar inspection programs.

The program applies to residential housing units that a tenant occupies or rents, or is available for rent. There are some exemptions, which include:

▪ Owner-occupied (or ones occupied by an owner’s child or parents) units

▪ Units unavailable for rent

▪ Any facility offering three or more lodging units to guests for periods of less than thirty days (i.e., motels)

▪ Retirement or nursing homes, housing at hospitals, state-licensed community care facilities, convent or monastery, or an extended medical care facility

▪ New construction with satisfactory certificate of occupancy and no code violations for 10 years.

▪ Government owned or operated units; or units that receive funding or subsidies from the federal, state or a local government, are inspected at least every three years, and provide a copy of inspection to the city.

▪ Accessory dwelling units (i.e. ‘mother-in-law’ houses)

▪ Shelters and transitional housing

Under the regulations, landlords would receive advance notice of inspections, and would have some choice in which units are inspected.

The council didn’t reach its decision easily, or without pleas from landlords worried about unintended consequences.

At a July 5 public hearing the majority of testimony was from property owners, managers and real estate professionals urging the council not to require inspections. People chided the council for letting “a few bad apples” who don’t maintain their property color all of the city’s rental housing stock.

Councilwoman Marie Barth, who is a real estate agent, was the sole dissenting vote Monday.

“I really prefer to strengthen the ordinances and codes that are in effect right now and pursue it in that manner,” she said.

The next step is for assistant city manager and development director David Bugher to work out details, including how much the program will cost. The council will allocate funding during its regular budget process.

Outreach to educate landlords on program requirements is expected to begin next year.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley