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Washington City Plans Extensive, Expensive Inspection and Licensing Program

 Inspection and Licensing Program

The Western Front, Bellingham Herald

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The Bellingham City Council plans to launch a massive new annual rental housing licensing and inspection program. The city’s Planning and Community Development Department is expected to take the lead in enforcing the new program.

The program, dubbed the “rental safety” ordinance addresses the concerns raised by Bellingham’s transient student rental population. The City of Bellingham is home to Western Washington University.

The program will require property owners and/or management companies to obtain a rental license for every unit. The license also serves as a registry that will be published in an online database giving the city a verifiable number of available rental units in Bellingham. The cost of the license is still pending review by a committee, but a council member said that it should be based on a sliding scale that takes into account the unit’s size and should not exceed $100 per unit annually. The property owner and/or management company will be required to file a declaration stating that the rental home meets the city’s health and safety codes.

The program will require property owners and management companies to submit to random inspections by the Planning and Community Development Department to enforce the city’s safety standards. The criteria for the inspections have yet to be finalized, but council members have discussed anywhere from 65 to 1,200 random inspection per year. With an estimated 6,200 rental properties, the city’s annual projected cost to implement this program is $800,000 in additional staff and administration. The exact number of staff to implement the program has yet to be determined, but will be based on the frequency of inspections. The cost of the program is expected to not only be borne by rental property owners, but by Bellingham taxpayers.

The city council has not determined a threshold or penalty structure for violations.

The final draft will be released in June.