July 15, 2013

INTENT: To point out another area holding the City back.


The Traditional Slumlord

Slumlords are like diamonds – they are forever. Many tenants are paying rent for houses that fail to meet basic habitability requirements. All City codes have provisions defining habitability, and many of these houses fail that basic test.

Code additionally defines how they are to maintain their properties so that they do not negatively impact neighborhoods. They are a home business, and as such might come under all the rules that apply to anyone operating a business out of their home.

A paraphrase of Burien's code on home based businesses would read: “The business shall not degrade the surrounding neighborhood through any actions on the part of the business”.

In my City, and possibly yours too, there is a gap in the regulation of these rental properties. Any property with less than 4 units is exempt from regulation in Burien. I will be providing a detailed proposal to the Council to rectify this problem and at the same time create a more livable City for everyone. I also asked that owners be charged $35 a year for a home business license to offset the cost of enforcement.


The New Slumlord

Banks are wholesale dumping their portfolios of foreclosed houses to large institutional investors. Most of these houses had the power cut as a cost saving measure by the Banks. They were without power for years as the foreclosure process wound its way through the legal system. When the properties finally reach the market; the banks inserted an “As Is” clause to release themselves of all liability.

Many of these houses are like Typhoid Mary waiting for new tenants to infect with dangerous mold spores. The CDC has written much about the dangers of mold infecting people's respiratory systems and damaging other vital organs. None of it is good.

You will be impacted by the cost of mold even if you do not rent one of these houses. Health Insurance companies will raise premiums to cover the additional costs associated with the diseases associated with mold infections. This reduction in personal net worth will impact you cumulatively. Year after year, higher premiums and less disposable income will deny you and your City many opportunities to get ahead.


Letter to the Council

Dear Council Members,

Rental property is a business that is not adequately dealt with in our existing BMC. Rental properties with less than four units are unregulated and some of them would easily be classified as slumlord dwellings.

Slumlord dwellings are easy to spot:

  • Some have cars parked all over the lawn.
  • Some have two foot-high grass that hasn't been mowed.
  • Some are in serious disrepair.
  • Some have rubbish scattered about.
  • All of them degrade our neighborhoods.

Most landlords do a good job of managing their properties because they know that it is in their best financial interest to do so. Slumlords on the other hand, are always looking for an easy buck, and will lease to anyone, including those that damage property.

Burien should rectify this gap in the BMC by requiring all rental businesses to maintain their properties. I believe if the rental market was required to maintain their properties in accordance with the same code homeowners have to follow, it would dramatically improve our neighborhoods.

Licensing these smaller rental properties the same way it licenses home occupied businesses, $35 per year per dwelling, would generate sufficient money to pay the cost of an extra full time compliance officer to monitor these businesses located in our neighborhoods.

I propose:

  • Burien hire a full time person to drive by all rental units located in Burien once a month. There is 150 miles of paved roadway in Burien with thousands of rentals.
  • 2 photos be taken from the public right-of-way of all rental properties monthly.

By requiring the landlords to register online:

  • The city can efficiently monitor neighborhood activities that harm our city.
  • The city can maintain an email database to quickly notify landlords of problems. Dealing with the tenant on code issues does not work. The owner is the responsible party for maintaining their property.
  • Photos of the property can be sent via email monthly.
  • Any bounced emails will alert the city to update the email database.
  • Pertinent updates to the BMC regarding landlords can be quickly distributed.

Burien should have a PDF file with current regulations that can be downloaded and inserted into the lease agreement. These PDF files should also have a synopsis to make them easy to understand:

  • Four cars maximum. Same as homeowners.
  • Parking only in designated driveways. Same as homeowners.
  • Vegetation shall not encroach onto sidewalks, roadways, or intersections. Same as homeowners.
  • Lawn to be maintained between March 1st and October 15th at an interval not to exceed three weeks.

This current economic cycle is fueling the slum lord problem in Burien. Specifically, many of the foreclosed houses in Burien are being sold to investors. A small percentage of these will become slum lords. Each of these slum lord dwellings degrade property values for 3 square miles. Burien has only 10 square miles. This isn't a problem we can afford to ignore anymore when an easy solution is at hand to improve our neighborhoods.

Dick West



July 15, 2013

I refer to rental properties as home based businesses. These businesses are regulated under Municipal Code. The fee in my town is $35 per year. Tacoma, Washington (a City I referred to earlier) has a $95 fee. When there is a code violation, in Tacoma, the fee doubles. On the fifth violation, inspectors from electrical, plumbing, structural and police do a survey of the property. Many properties are condemned at that point. Tacoma's policy was prompted by blighting problems. 47% of its housing stock is rental.
Pointing out that these are unregulated businesses operating to the detriment of the neighborhoods names the problem.

Houses have regulations on parking. Your code will give you insights into these regulations. Generally, there is a maximum number of vehicles per house. All vehicles have to be in running condition and licensed. Parking on driveways is often specified.
Showing that the City is driving by and allowing these problems calls into question the City Manager's performance.

Habitability requirements are specified in Code. Mold is often a problem in rundown properties.
This questions the commitment to a healthy community.

Driving around is often the easiest way to get a sense of the scope of problems in your City. Vegetation is always dealt with in Code. There may not be lawn mowing requirements, but there will be prohibitions of vegetation encroaching on sidewalks, roadways and obscuring intersections.
Allowing known safety and blighting problems calls into question the City's conformance with Law.




To undertake the challenges that our Nation confronts, we must have access to our net worth. New wealth can easily be created in the neighborhoods. It only requires that these businesses follow the same rules as those operating downtown. Three positive things will occur:

  1. Downtown businesses will see increasing sales and profits.
  2. This will lead to more job creation.
  3. As the underemployment dries up, wages will naturally rise.

Wealth will be created by making the neighborhoods more livable. People pay more to live in areas where the City watches out for the residents. A City like this is more engaged with the community. These types of communities become hubs for commerce, the arts, and other endeavors that will make our Cities and Nation more sustainable.

We (you and I) are both the responsible parties in this issue. Responsibility isn't about blame, rather its about taking the time to talk about the policies that allow these degradations to occur. I believe its important to always propose a solution. That way people can understand not only the problem, but also see a way forward, and through it.