[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

Dear Council Members:
Rental property is a business that is not adequately dealt within our existing BMC. Rental properties with less than four units are unregulated and some of them would easily be classified as slumlord dwellings.
Slumlord dwellings are easy to spot:

  • Some have cars parked all over the lawn.
  • Some have two foot-high grass that hasn’t been mowed.
  • Some are in serious disrepair.
  • Some have rubbish scattered about.
  • All of them degrade our neighborhoods.

Most landlords do a good job of managing their properties because they know that it is in their best financial interest to do so. Slumlords on the other hand, are always looking for an easy buck, and will lease to anyone, including those that damage property.
Burien should rectify this gap in the BMC by requiring all rental businesses to maintain their properties. I believe if the rental market was required to maintain their properties in accordance with the same code homeowners have to follow, it would dramatically improve our neighborhoods.
Licensing these smaller rental properties the same way it licenses home occupied businesses, $35 per year per dwelling, would generate sufficient money to pay the cost of an extra full time compliance officer to monitor these businesses located in our neighborhoods.
I propose:

  • Burien hire a full time person to drive by all rental units located in Burien once a month. There is 150 miles of paved roadway in Burien with thousands of rentals.
  • 2 photos be taken from the public right-of-way of all rental properties monthly.

By requiring the landlords to register online:

  • The city can efficiently monitor neighborhood activities that harm our city.
  • The city can maintain an email database to quickly notify landlords of problems. Dealing with just the tenant on code issues does not work. The owner is the responsible party for maintaining their property.
  • Photos of the property can be sent via email monthly.
  • Any bounced emails will alert the city to update the email database.
  • Pertinent updates to the BMC regarding landlords can be quickly distributed.

Burien should have a PDF file with current regulations that can be downloaded and inserted into the lease agreement. These PDF files should also have a synopsis to make them easy to understand:

  • Four cars maximum. Same as the homeowners.
  • Parking only in designated driveways. Same as homeowners.
  • Vegetation shall not encroach onto sidewalks, roadways, or intersections. Same as homeowners.
  • Lawn to be maintained between March 1st and October 15th at an interval not to exceed three weeks.

This current economic cycle is fueling the slumlord problem in Burien. Specifically, many of the foreclosed houses in Burien are being sold to investors. A small percentage of these will become slumlords. Each of these slumlord dwellings degrade property values for 3 square miles. Burien has only 10 square miles, so this isn’t a problem we can afford to ignore any more when an easy solution is at hand to improve our neighborhoods.
– Dick West

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14 replies on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: 'It's time to regulate Slumlords in Burien'”

  1. I am a property manager who manages in the Kent area but lives in Burien. I too get frustrated with slum lords but licensing rentals is NOT the way to fix that. There is no reason that the same rules that apply to homeowners can’t apply to rentals and the city should enforce them the same way. If the current city code doesn’t allow the city to enforce rules equally in both cases, then that is the change we should make. If you think that slumlord who owns four units is already doing little around the property, how much less will they spend on their property when they are paying $140 per year in licensing fees? Licensing a property will not make the landlord a better landlord, it’s essentially a tax on only rentals and therefore discrimination. The city doesn’t require homeowners to register the same way, so why would you require that of landlords? Things like this have passed in a few other cities and our company no longer works in those areas because, let’s face it, government is never good at staying out of our business and makes things more cumbersome than necessary. Cities like Tukwila who have an inspection and licensing program are getting more and more slumlords because legitimate and hardworking landlords like myself aren’t willing to deal with the hassle from the city government. You aren’t going to have less rentals, so why would you want less GOOD property managers?
    I see this as one more example of how the educated and wealthier population of Burien continues to discriminate against those who are not as fortunate. The people who live around Lake Burien get a private lake all to themselves because the rest of the taxpayers in the city who aren’t educated enough to take part in local government and see what is happening. In the same way, let’s raise a tax on the people who aren’t paying enough attention to vote on it, because it’s easier to round up all your home-owning friends and their pitchforks and get the whole group riled up about how evil the landlords are then actually address the problems with current city code enforcement.
    I own my own home. I have a neighbor who is a tenant and rarely mows their lawn. When it bothers me, I go knock on the door and ask them to cut, and they do. No government needed, just people willing to interact with people and make the whole community better instead of hiding behind codes, charging more fees, and driving up the cost of rentals for everyone.

    1. Very informative, thank you. And although I really don’t care much about the whole Lake Burien thing, I do feel the class division. I know it’s hard for some to imagine, but there are people who, for whatever reason, cannot afford landscaping and car repair. Being broke is oppressive enough without being forced to clean up your yard and stuff when you need to be focusing your finances on food, shelter and moving forward. I would prefer to pay an additional tax to hire more members for the gang unit to go out and monitor 150 miles of Burien in order to pinpoint and deal with criminal activity and graffiti.

      1. Lisa B – You have some very good points but I do not see this, still, as class division. There are people who are financially comfortable with yards that seem nasty to others. There are people who go from paycheck to paycheck who have beautifully kept up yards.
        This is an issue for me where some people choose to exercise pride in ownership and those who have other thoughts – I do not think it is divided by class lines.
        Nor do I think it is related to Lake Burien…wonder where that idea came from? If you looked at those residing around the lake, yes, you would see some very fortunate people but you will also see some very hardworking middle class people who either have had property in the family forever or bought fixer upper property and provided sweat equity.
        But to Mr. West – fundamentally, we all have different concepts of what our living environment should look like. In some towns or developments, there are covenants that residents must meet to live there. But, unless we have chosen that avenue, I do not think it is anyone’s business how often we mow our lawn or whether our cars are parked on the street. If there are existing city laws, then those can be used to address the issue given proper consideration of resources, time, and priority.

    2. What if the rental owner is NOT co-operative or lives out of town and is unable to be contacted. It sounds like you want to avoid paying taxes to regulate because its advantageous to yourself financially.
      You complain about people that pay double the taxes you do to live on the lake or on three tree point . I own a house a couple of houses down from a slumlord with at least 12 cars in their driveway and on the street including a motor home which is occupied on a full time basis.
      The city needs to write code to protect the property rights and values of RESIDENTS and enforce them the quality of life of residents is not eroded by eyesores of slumlords properties many of whom live far away from here. We need to do something to stop this recent proliferation of slum lords whose primary focus is PROFIT and who could care less about how their eyesores affect our quality of life here in Burien.

  2. Just go and knock huh? lol…sure. That would work everywhere, right? The point is, no one should have to ask people to take care of their homes; rented or not. I am sympathetic towards those with disabilities or age issues which prevent them from doing strenuous activities. In those cases, I agree with pitching in. However, stop trying to use this class warfare nonsense. People need to start taking responsilbility, fortunate and unfortunate.
    I don’t even live on Lake Burien, but please people, let it go. You have Seahurst, the public beach at Three Tree Point, Seahurst, and a host of other public places on or near the water.

  3. Although I do not disagree with Mr. West’s desire to keep Burien looking more beautiful, I cannot agree with his proposed methods as directed against owners of rentals.
    The issues he mentions are no different that ones that people who own their own home present. His descriptions of parked cars, long grass, and parking only in designated driveways are found on nearly every street in Burien.
    It is not up to us to force our personal standards of housekeeping on others. Telling homeowners or renters how often and during what months they must mow is ludicrous. Allowing parking only in designated driveways is crazy and unenforceable – what are the parking strips on the street for then, pray tell?
    And to propertymanager, how did a discussion of home and apartment upkeep become an issue with the “educated and wealthier population of Burien” discriminating against those less fortunate? Let’s not turn this into a free for all class war – we should be working to deal with issues together, not driving people apart.

  4. Why do we need to spend money on something that can be handled by the police? Serve the owner with a notice that if they don’t maintain their property, they will be fined an exorbitant amount.

      1. I believe that’s the point Burien Fan. Let’s fix the rules so everyone takes care of their properties – homeowners and landlords alike instead of changing the rules for only landlords.

  5. Nope. Not until the city takes care of its own sidewalks ,ditches ,streets ,abandoned gas stations ,graffiti and landscaping will I entertain them telling me what to do on my property.

  6. Please dont think that licensing rental properties is going to make things okay. Not even going to comment on that. The “chat” did bring up some other topics that I will comment on: Lake Burien and the “public lake”. I do not live on Lake Burien, but live in the nieghborhood. I DO NOT believe the lake should be public access! Have you seen Seahurst Beach Park? I cannot believe the disregard people have for public access ! dirty diapers, toys, garbage etc etc…. We have signs that say “pick up after your pet”, why dont we have signs that say “pick up after kids AND yourselves” ??? I can only imagine what would happen to Lake Burien IF we allowed public access……PLEASE dont EVER allow that to happen, it would be a disaster!! Yes, make the people clean up their property, NO….licensing owners of rentals!
    Have so much more to say…..Later.

    1. all that takes its a cop to wright a few tickets and that probly stop for the most part and I feel its kinda odd that someone use to say just about the same thing about arbor lake but since it has been cleand up for the most part other than yes a random peace of litter or 2 now you move on to the next park with a little problem but if a cop happen tobe by and told who ever to pick up after them selfs or they get a ticket then I bet they whould pick up after them selfs and Iam not saying a cop has sit there all day but if they have some paperwork to finish up and they are close by they could park down there and look around it just that some people think that a public park would allow some people that other people might not like to use a lake that they the pay some of the same taxes for and a park on lake burien would be rather small not a huge park just big enough for a family picnick or a little fishing its not like they want take out 20 houses and put in a big park

      1. also you know if any one that used a park on lake burien if they had a scratch on there car or have a dirty shirt on they would get the cops called on them by some one with in 5 minutes or less as a suspicious person or car

  7. Don’t always presume a poorly maintained rental property is due to an owner’s lack of caring. Granted, there are those who do not maintain things as they should but the tenant can make many situations better on their own.
    On my properties I hire a maintenance man and landscaper to keep things in the best shape possible (resale value). But, in most cases the effort is diminished by the “it’s a rental” mentality. The handyman makes monthly inspections but you cannot dictate how people should live. Case in point, my last issue with a tenant was due to him being a hoarder. Even with inspections and repeated requests to keep things orderly he filled the house. My recourse was to evict. I didn’t want to displace him so I did what I could to work with him over the course of a year. Hiring hourly labor to organize his things but to no avail. I was open and verbal with what I was trying to do but it went no where. Due to the environment he created even his wife left him. After a long period of waiting for action I gave notice and at my cost hired movers to help him relocate.
    There are challenges from both landlords and tenants. Please try to get to the root cause before acting on behalf of either side.

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