Everything Bremerton: Frustrations of being a homeowner in a rental town

In 1998 my husband and I, as first time purchasers, selected a home in West Bremerton. At the time of the purchase our property was among four out of eleven on our street that was an owner occupied residence. Over the past 12 years we have experienced the peaks and the valleys of being surrounded by rental properties. Currently there are six out of the eleven properties that are owner occupied.

The rental properties in our neighborhood run the entire gambit. Two of the rental properties have good landlords that have made major improvements, kept their properties in good repair, make themselves available for communication about possible problems and have a solid record of excellent long-term tenants who participate and contribute to neighborhood upkeep and improvements. One of these properties is a current participant in Section 8 housing. These properly stewarded rental properties are welcome and appreciated.

Other rental properties on our block include a property that is a real eyesore and was originally owned by an uncaring, out-of-state landlord that none of us could identify or locate to even lodge a complaint or make our concerns known. When this person became deceased it was inherited by an individual who has a very limited income and no business owning a rental property. This new landlord can barely afford to fix what breaks within the unit, let alone see to any real upkeep or make significant improvements. New tenants are in and out of this property every three to six months. The property continues to deteriorate with every passing year and the insurance company is now threatening to cancel the policy on it because it has major health and safety issues. It cannot be sold because it would not pass any sort of inspection.

Another property remained empty for so long that transients starting breaking windows and squatting in the home. The police have been called multiple times. The owner refuses to sell the property despite several offers because of sentimental reasons and recently allowed renters into it again even though it has boarded up windows and a leaking roof.

Currently the Bremerton City Council has before it two measures aimed at cleaning up problem properties. I fully support the proposal that would require rental owners to purchase business licenses for each property. Landlords are in business. Taking money for this type of service provided constitutes a business and should be licensed, governed and run accordingly. For the local Puget Rental Owners Association to continue to say otherwise is irresponsible and contributes to part of the problem and much of the frustration felt by responsible property owners. A yearly $65 licensing fee is not a significant hardship for the responsible property owner. Having the names of these individuals, and information registered and on public record for every single property, would promote and improve access, transparency and communication between all property owners in the same neighborhood when there are issues to address.

On the second measure that would require state-certified inspections at the property owner’s expense, I am hesitant to support such a measure in its current form. I can see where this very easily could become too significant of a financial hardship on both property owners and their tenants. The unintended consequences could easily be an increase in abandoned properties when landlords give up and walk away when they can’t pay the fees or make the improvements or when too much of an increase in rent passed on to the renters who must suffer for their landlord’s poor financial planning habits.

I do see the presentation of these measures as an opportunity toward reform on a major problem that this community faces. I have suffered and my neighbors have suffered from nightmare property owners. Eventual solutions can include a balance between protecting the rights of property owners, both rental and owner occupied, with the creation of a mutually agreed upon process that would give landlords the incentive to keep their properties in good working order and give community members ability to have action taken on properties and landlords that are a source of continuous problems.

This issue will not resolve itself and we all need to keep communicating and working together on the solution. I welcome all of your thoughts and comments to keep the conversation going.

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