by Chason Gordon
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Well Seattle, it’s that time of year again. The days are a little shorter, the weather is slightly cooler, and Starbucks is offering its pumpkin spice latte. You know what that means? New laws! (You thought that I was going to say fall, didn’t you?) To be fair, Seattle is frequently enacting new laws and regulations, so the opening of this article makes no sense. There are generally two types of laws: those that tell us to do something, and those that tell us to not do something. Occasionally, a law tells people to not not do something, but then you’re getting into double negatives and philosophical questions of will, and I don’t have time to go into that. Maybe next class.
Are we banning plastic bags again? Is there a new fee on cars that have wheels? Why am I stalling so much? Upon checking my law ticker ($19.95 at RadioShack!), it appears that City Council has approved legislation requiring owners of rental property to register and ensure that their units meet safety and health codes. Whoa! Did anyone have that? Me either.
The aim of the program is to grant tenants more rights, and force owners to bring their buildings into compliance, which seems necessary, because landlords have too much power at the moment. They can walk into your apartment whenever they want, eat your food, sleep with your girlfriend (damn you Longshanks!), and demand the rent whenever they’ve had a bad night at the track (maybe it’s just my place). Why, the other day my landlord stood in my apartment and poked me for hours. I asked him to fix a leak and he shut off the water. “There,” he said, “it’s fixed.” I’m tired of getting bullied! What can you do for me dear City Council, the average handsome citizen.
I’ve actually gone through the legislation, because my editor refuses to get me an intern, and am happy to pass it on to you. The ordinance (which will not go into effect until 2014) requires rental properties to be registered with the city, ensures that all buildings are inspected within the first 10 years of the program, allows for random inspections, and enables the Seattle Department of Planning and Development to inspect properties based on complaints.
Here’s how it will actually work: Occasionally an inspector will walk by an apartment and yell, “You guys alright in there?” When no one responds, he’ll return at night, and if the tenants have lit candles in their windows, he’ll know something is wrong.
Critics suggest that this latest bureaucracy will favor newer buildings looking to replace old ones, lead to an uptick in costs for renters, and give an unnecessary amount of control to the government. I asked the government for a response, but they only made a deep booming noise, like the aliens in “War of the Worlds.” When I was reading a list of the bad conditions that the legislation hopes to protect against, I realized that my own apartment has a few of them. Who knew? Perhaps I’ll make a complaint, and if my landlord tries to evict me, I’ll use the great power of my comedy column to destroy him in the press! He’ll regret the day he messed with Charles Foster Kane!
Of course, I’m here to help the landlords who want to skirt these regulations. Try to find out ahead of time which units the inspector plans to look at, and turn them into temporary luxury apartments filled with actors pretending to live there. This is your backup plan, however, because when the inspector comes by, just tell him the apartment building is a house. “These aren’t tenants,” you can say, “they’re my friends. They’re just crashing here.” If the inspector doesn’t buy it and notices problems with your building, like cockroaches betting on rat races, try to slickly bribe him. “It’s a shame you have to shut us down, because I have a top floor unit available for 1 dollar a month.” If he knows a good thing when he sees it, he’ll take your offer. That’s how the government works.
The landlord/tenant relationship is a sacred institution, and I worry about the government getting involved. Many old buildings in the city are sustained by casual understandings, like a tenant not complaining about a leak as long as the landlord overlooks the meth lab. Do you want the government getting between this? What relationship are they going to interfere with next? The one I have with my tailor, my barber, or that guy who tells me when large amounts of cash are being moved? I hope not.
At the very least, tenants will learn about their rights and make smarter choices, because information is power. It’s not literally power. I mean, you can’t keep a light bulb on with investigative journalism or fine print, but you get the idea.
Follow Mr. Gordon on twitter: @chasongordon