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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Initial Sehome rental inspections reveal 42 percent failure rate

WWU_Housing
Illustration by Evan Matz

More than 200 rental properties near Western’s campus failed safety code regulations after the first wave of city inspections, according to Emma Burnfield, a rental registration specialist for the City of Bellingham.

Initial inspections began in June around the Sehome neighborhood, and about 42 percent of rental units failed safety codes upon first inspection. Code violations can include broken locks, exposed wiring, leaking plumbing or missing handles on appliances.

While a majority of the code violations were easily fixed, Western student Tripp Marotto has first-hand experience with extreme safety issues in a Bellingham rental.

“My last house was kind of a gutter house,” Marotto said. “There was a pool of standing water underneath it. Our entire house was slanted, and there was exposed wire throughout the house. It was a mess.”

No code violations in the Sehome neighborhood were serious enough to displace tenants, but more properties failed initial inspections than the city had predicted.

“It’s a little higher than we expected in our preliminary calculations, but we’re not terribly surprised,” Burnfield said.

Bellingham City Council’s Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program was created in March 2015 in an effort to ensure renter safety and to better enforce safety codes in rental properties.

“The end goal is making sure that the rental stock in Bellingham is meeting really basic life and safety standards,” Burnfield said. “So, we’re just trying to bring everybody up to that basic standard and make sure all the renters in town have a good place to live — that they feel safe in.”

Tenants can check if the property they are renting is registered with the Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program online through the City of Bellingham’s website. If a rental is not registered, students can contact the property owner or manager and report it to the program to avoid situations like the one Marotto found himself in.

“We’re not relying so much on the landlords calling us. We are coming back.”

Emma Burnfield

“It’s kind of a serious issue because there’s so many students that live here in Bellingham,” Marotto said. “So, for us to not be safe in our homes is kind of unacceptable.”

If inspectors give property owners a list of their violations, the city makes sure they are taken care of, Burnfield said.

“We automatically set re-inspection,” Burnfield said. “We’re not relying so much on the landlords calling us. We are coming back.”

Pacific Living Properties, a popular management company for multiple apartment complexes near Western, is helping to get their renters prepared for the next wave of upcoming inspections.

“If there’s any maintenance that we need to take care of, then obviously we want to take care of those,” said Christina West, a rental manager with Pacific Living Properties.

“Everybody deserves basic life and safety [regulations],”  Burnfield said. “The city is there to support that. We don’t want people caught up in really bad situations, so we’re backing you up.”

Off-campus Western students who may have safety violations in their rental can take action by making sure their concerns are taken care of. Violations such as minor as broken locks or handrails can be reported.

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