The Division 1 Court of Appeals this week rejected a challenge to the City’s Rental Registration & Inspection Program, in which all residential landlords, to maintain a business license, must arrange public or private inspections of their rental units at least once every ten years. The program was established in 2014 to help see that all rental housing in Seattle is safe and meets basic housing maintenance requirements.
The City Attorney’s Office successfully saw the program upheld at King County Superior Court, and this week a three judge panel on the Court of Appeals issued a clear opinion which upholds the Rental Registration & Inspection Program in its entirety. The plaintiffs argued that the City’s ordinance and the City’s requirements for inspectors, including training, were unconstitutional, but the judges found the arguments unpersuasive.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “This is about protecting the health and safety of renters so they aren’t subject to conditions like toxic mold or exposed wiring. The goal in catching hazardous conditions is remediation, not punishment, so everyone can live safely in their homes. My thanks to City Attorney’s Office in-house attorneys Carolyn Boies, Jenna Robert, and Brian Maxey for presenting a well-argued case that saw this program over the finish line.”
Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park) helped develop the Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance in her role as Legislative Aide to former Councilmember Nick Licata. As Councilmember herself, Herbold was primary sponsor of an ordinance amending the program in 2019.
Herbold said, “I have been working on this policy in some fashion for 27 years – since 1994, when landlords won round one of their opposition to a program enacted in 1987, then in 2006 to get state authorization for a new program, and then in 2010, when the Council passed Ordinance 123311. It’s an understatement to say, as former Councilmember Nick Licata did in 2010, that ‘Seattle’s had a long and difficult history on the issue of rental housing inspection programs.’”
The Rental Registration & Inspection Program requires the City to provide 60 days’ notice to property owners that the property must be inspected, and property owners must give any tenants at least 2 days’ notice prior to the inspection.
Studies show that renters living in the most substandard housing are the least likely to use the complaint-based system. Renters often fear retaliation when they complain about their housing conditions. Hundreds of cities in the United States have proactive rental housing inspection programs requiring periodic inspections that don’t rely on a renter complaint. Some proactive rental housing inspection programs have been in existence for more than 40 years.