The council is gearing up to vote on Council Bill 120622, a legislation aimed at raising the standards for vacant properties under the city's Vacant Building Monitoring Program. The bill also seeks to amend the city’s building safety and maintenance standards to enhance the requirements for securing vacant buildings.
Under the proposed legislation, landlords who have lost tenants and are not receiving rent will be obligated to bear the cost of upgrading their buildings. This includes installing reinforced deadbolts and replacing plywood with polycarbonate sheets. Additionally, landlords will be required to keep their vacant properties free of graffiti, despite the city's de facto legalization of the act.
The new law stipulates that any building that receives a violation notice must be enrolled in the Vacant Building Monitoring Program. The Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections will then be authorized to file a property lien to recover unpaid vacant building monitoring fees and abatement costs. This will be followed by monthly inspections of vacant buildings to ensure compliance.
According to a director’s report on the legislation, approximately 75 percent of properties enrolled in the vacant building monitoring program are in the process of redevelopment. However, landlords, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Post Millennial that their properties are vacant due to tenants leaving the city because of high business costs, taxes, and rampant crime.
Following the council's decision to defund the police department amidst the 2020 riots, The Center Square reported a 41 percent increase in unsecured vacant buildings, rising from 281 in 2021 to 396 in 2022, as revealed by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections.
The department also reported a 57 percent spike in secured vacant buildings with violations, from 480 in 2021 to 753 in 2022, and expects these numbers to surpass last year’s totals. Furthermore, fee collections have dropped from 57 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2022, a decline partially attributed to leniency during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report states, “Because the monitoring program is largely fee supported, nonpayment represents a financial risk to the program.”
The deterioration is evident on major roads such as Rainier Avenue in South Seattle, one of the country's most diverse zip codes. Once bustling businesses now stand as empty lots, stretching for blocks.
A common pattern has emerged: vagrants occupy the property, the vacant structure is burned down, an encampment is established on the property, and eventually, the landlords evict the occupants, bulldoze the remains, and fence the property.
Seattle's Democratic Mayor Bruce Harrell, a resident of the district, proposed the ordinance in August 2023. On Monday, it was approved by the Seattle Land Use Committee, where Tammy Morales, a Seattle city council member, serves as Vice chair. The legislation is set to be presented to the full city council for a final vote on September 26.