The City of Burien on Tuesday, Nov. 20, released the following statement  from City Manager Brian Wilson regarding the situation at the Fox Cove Apartments.
Despite requests from tenants, the city refused to send an inspector out to the building (read a recent Letter to the Editor from them here ), and stated their reasons below:
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On September 14, 2018, a new owner purchased Fox Cove Apartments, a 36-unit apartment complex in Burien, with the intent of renovating the apartments. On September 28, 2018, the City of Burien was made aware that the new owner of the Fox Cove Apartments had served their residents with displacement notices. The City did not have any knowledge of the conditions at Fox Cove prior to hearing from tenants on September 28, 2018.
Our hearts go out to the residents of Fox Cove. These community members were not expecting to have to find new housing right before the holidays. Not only do they need relocation funding assistance, but many also require support in finding new housing. The City was made aware that there was a risk that many of the residents, many of whom included children and people living with disabilities, may be facing homelessness.
Soon after learning this news, City staff joined a few Councilmembers in meeting with the residents to assess the situation. Our City Attorney reached out to the new owner to ask if they would provide some relocation assistance and if they could extend the amount of time the residents had to find new housing. The new owner stated they were not willing to offer relocation assistance but did extend the time for some of the residents who had to vacate their apartments.
Unfortunately, some of the residents stopped paying rent for several months. In order to begin the eviction process for non-payment of rent, the owner served these tenants with eviction notices to move out earlier than December or January. This means some of the residents have had even less time to find new housing.
On October 23, 2018, the Burien City Council voted to provide relocation assistance for renters in Burien. That included $9,000 for direct assistance and $8,645 for housing navigation for 2018, and $18,000 for housing navigation for 2019. The funds are going to the nonprofit Multi-Service Center to provide case management and move-in assistance. The City’s Human Services Manager is also working with Mary’s Place, Solid Ground, the Ecumenical Leadership Circle, and the Highline School District’s McKinney Vento program to bring as many support networks together to get the residents of Fox Cove Apartments rapidly into new housing.
On October 24, 2018, the City’s Human Services Manager initiated a contract with Multi-Service Center. She, along with Councilmembers and the City Manager, attended multiple meetings with Fox Cove residents. Multi-Center staff have initiated one-on-one contact and the human services manager has convened weekly meetings with service providers to get each resident access to new housing.
Fox Cove residents, upon advice from their attorney, also requested an inspector be sent out to the building. They stated that their hope was that the inspection would force the new owner to provide relocation assistance. The attorney cited a Washington State law that states that landlords cannot extend or initiate new leases knowing habitability is an issue. The new owner is not extending or initiating any new leases. Instead, they are terminating leases so that they can address the building’s issues.
The City did not send an inspector out to the building for a few reasons:
- The City was concerned that the inspection could potentially give residents even less time to move. If the building had been deemed condemnable, the City would have had no choice but to “red-tag” the building, which would have given the residents only 72 hours to vacate the building.
- The tenants’ attorney requested inspections for the sole purpose of creating inspection reports without the City’s inspector following through with any findings. The City does not provide such “advisory” inspections and must follow through with findings resulting from any inspection. Code violations are currently being addressed or will be addressed by the new owner after all tenants move out.
- The stated purpose of the request for inspections was to enable tenants to seek and receive relocation assistance, which the City has addressed by allocating relocation assistance.
- Finally, such relocation assistance could not legally be forthcoming from the new owner, as the damage was caused by the prior owner.
As of November 20, 2018, two-thirds of the units have connected to a housing navigator, received move-in or moving assistance, have vacated, or have a plan in place to move. Each Fox Cove resident has a unique set of needs and challenges, which has affected how quickly they are able to find new housing.
During the October 23, 2018 Council meeting, staff was directed to provide a set of options for tenant protections policies that included input from community stakeholders. Staff is actively working on those options and has included budget proposals for some of the options in the 2019–2020 budget. Staff will present the full set of policy options to Council during the first quarter of 2019.
As our population outpaces the amount of housing units available and as our housing stock ages, many of our long-term community members may face similar displacement. To mitigate and prevent the effects of this trend, we look forward to presenting a number of program and policy options to Council for approval in the coming months.