Rental Licensing Program Nearing Council Talks

City administrators reviewing creation of comprehensive licensing program for rental properties in Kent

The idea of creating a comprehensive rental property licensing program in Kent will be up for a vote at Kent City Council this year.

City administrators are in the midst of reviewing the idea after council voted in March 2012 to have the idea analyzed.

Kent Community Development Director Bridge Susel gave an update on the city staff's progress to members of the Kent Planning Commission recently.

"We know there are illegal boarding houses," Susel said.  "But it’s really hard to prove it. Code enforcement can only take it so far."

The issue has been a topic of debate for years in Kent, but it has come to the forefront again as property owners have sought formal approval from the city to convert houses zoned as single-family to the multi-family boarding house designation.

The city does license boarding houses where more than two unrelated people reside, but property owners who rent to more than two unrelated people in houses zoned single-family violate that law. City officials have said it's unclear how many illegal boarding houses exist in Kent.

The 2010 Census data show the city has a total 11,584 housing units. Of those 10,493 occupied units, 6,492 are renter-occupied and 4,001 are owner-occupied. At least 62 percent of the units occupied in 2010 were rental properties.

Close to 400 addresses were registered with the Kent Health Department in 2012 as approved boarding houses.

Susel told the planning commission Tuesday that when the city's code enforcement officer asks tenants of suspected illegal boarding houses who lives there the tenants often give the same response.

"They know to say two brothers and a sister live here," she said.

Kent Law Director Jim Silver said even a lease showing five different, unrelated tenants doesn't always hold up in court as proof of an illegal boarding house.

"It’s incredibly difficult to prove," he said.

Right now, city administrators are reviewing how a rental licensing program could be structured. That review includes figuring out which city departments would play a role in overseeing the program, how inspections would be conducted, when licenses would be renewed and whether there would be a cost to property owners associated with the license.

"There’s a lot of variables that have to be looked at and discussed," Susel said.

She acknowledged city officials are also trying to be aware of how property owners may perceive or react to the idea.

"It’s very polarizing, especially in a college town where there’s a lot of rentals," Susel said.

Members of the planning commission talked about the idea of writing a letter of support of a rental licensing program and sending it to council prior to the administrations presentation.

The issue could be presented to council for consideration by this summer.

Planning commission chairman Anthony Catalano said he hears concerns from residents frequently about rental properties that are not maintained lowering their property values.

When asked about the issue at Wednesday's city council meeting Councilmen Wayne Wilson and Jack Amrhein declined to comment until they hear the city administration's presentation later this year.

Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said one point of concern would be whether or not the city could afford the manpower and other administrative costs that would be associated with such a comprehensive rental licensing program.

"I don’t think it’s something we think isn’t important," Fiala said.

Teresa K. February 15, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Chris: Renters are at the mercy of the landlord. Renters dont decide when drywall gets replaced or the toilet gets unclogged. I dont think $125 annually for an inspection is too much. Even any violations that get repaired are deductible against the income made off the rental. Imagine how much money the city might make if ALL illegal boarding houses were registered and inpected. I understand what you mean about ALL homes needing to be equally safe, but I like things the way they are. Inspect the rentals and homeowners take the hit when they go to sell for not doing the upkeep.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 15, 2013 at 09:55 PM
Teresa! Renters are NOT at the mercy of the landlord. Renters have avenues through the courts if they have problems. By the way, a landlord/landlady has to provide a functional toilet and that is the extent of it. If it clogs because of a tenants misuse, that is the tenant's responsibility. You like things the way they are, huh? So you think it's OK for a baby to burn to death in an unsafe owner-occupied house but not in a rental. Interesting... Mars! If tenants have to suffer the indignity of a City inspector looking in their closets, I think homowners should also have to enjoy that privilege. If you and the City think that renters are somehow of lesser quality than renters, why don't you just come right out and say so? I say inspect all dwellings or inspect none.
Sa;;y February 16, 2013 at 12:50 PM
WOW! Talk about taking things out of context! I'm pretty sure Teresa wouldn't be happy with a baby burning to death anywhere!!!! Being a landlord is a business. And, businesses have regulations to follow. Chris - you have some good points in the beginning but now I'm not so sure.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 16, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Well, Sa;;y, why do certain safety regulations apply only to residential properties that are businesses and not to all residential properties? Can fire identify one from the other? Does fire say to itself, "I'm not going here; this property is owner-occupied?" Of course Teresa wouldn't be happy with a baby burning to death anywhere, but it would seem to me that if we are going to regulate home safety it should be required acoss the board. Why do I use the example of a baby burning in a fire? Because, Sa;;y, I think that pretty much says it all. And, Teresa, while a person who doesn't keep his owner-occupied home kept up may take a hit because when he/she goes to sell, I don't believe that that is sufficient rationale for allowing him/her to provide an unsafe home for those family members who have no control over their envirnment. I really don't think you believe that, either, but correct me if I'm wrong.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 16, 2013 at 02:14 PM
Please disregard the word "because" in the last paragraph of my last post. Also my spelling of the word "environment." I ain't the best editer or tipist.


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