In 2019, the City Council passed a suite of renter housing policies, including the creation of a rental housing inspection program. Burien joined five other Puget Sound cities in the establishment of a proactive inspection program that requires property managers to submit proof to the City of Burien that their units meet basic health and safety criteria. If issues are found, landlords are required to correct any substandard housing conditions. The program formally launched in January 2021, when all Burien landlords were mailed notice about the new program’s requirements.
Apartments, duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes are required to conduct a health and safety inspection on at least 20 percent of the property’s rental units every three years. Burien has been divided into three zones following a rental housing inspection schedule.
Manuela Ginnett joined the City of Burien earlier this year as the Rental Housing Inspection Program Coordinator. She most recently worked for the Seattle Housing Authority and prior to that she worked for 20 years with the Multi-Service Center, a nonprofit organization that delivers support for basic needs like food, housing, and employment. She worked in their housing program and brought that experience to Burien.
“You hear the stories about how properties are not being kept up,” said Ginnett. “Residents don’t want to rock the boat by reporting issues. They are afraid they will be evicted, or the rent will be increased. Many of them are vulnerable already, having poor credit or background that makes it hard to find housing.”
Close to 70 percent of Burien’s housing units were built before 1970. Many of the multifamily housing complexes have systemic structural problems or are suffering the effects from years of deferred maintenance.
Rental housing inspection programs like Burien’s are a helpful tool in keeping rental properties maintained, lessening the need for tenants to demand repairs to their housing unit.
“Programs like ours are about prevention,” said Ginnett. “By proactively addressing maintenance issues, renters live in healthier and safer housing.”
Ginnett wants landlords to know that she can help them comply with the legal requirements of the program. Even though the pandemic and eviction moratorium put some financial pressures on landlords, who may see this program as an increased burden, she wants landlords to know that complying with the program gives them extra legal protection.
“If they don’t get a business license, they can’t evict tenants, even for just cause,” said Ginnett.
Additionally, these inspections can help landlords discover issues not brought to their attention by tenants. For example, in her brief time with this program, Ginnett has seen approximately 40% of inspections fail due to missing or inoperable smoke or CO2 detectors, which creates a risk to the property owner’s asset. Another example is two property owners with well-maintained properties learned through the inspection process that they had outdated electrical panels, which were a fire risk.
The program has faced some challenges, specifically tracking down contact information for landlords or some landlords refusing to comply. In addition, the landlords that are doing a good job maintaining their properties feel put upon by the efforts to protect tenants from landlords that purposefully fail to maintain their properties or abuse their power over low-income and limited English-speaking tenants.
“We hope that as more landlords and renters hear about the program, we’ll see an increase in compliance,” said Ginnett.
Learn more at burienwa.gov/RHIP.