Olympia closer to imposing registration for rental housing

Program would require tenants and landlords to submit to onsite inspections


Christa Lenssen, Olympia's housing program specialist, briefed the Land Use and Environmental Committee members on the rental housing registration program the city is considering establishing.

At the committee meeting held Thursday, November 17, Lenssen said that in the past months, they had reviewed the program structures and details from other nearby cities, including Aberdeen, Auburn, Bellingham, Burien, Kent, Renton, Tacoma and Seattle.

In May, the committee directed the staff to explore options for a rental housing registry program to gather data about rental housing and share information with the landlords to ensure meeting basic life, health and safety standards. The city council would need to approve the program before implementation.

Committee chair and Councilmember Dani Madrone asked the staff for information about the registration program components, including the associated fee and the inspection component.

Citing nearby Kent's program, Lenssen said the city started its rental housing registration in 2019 with 290 properties – with 14,421 units – registered. "How they have structured their program is that the inspections are completed by a third party and then entered into a compliance database."

She suggested that Olympia may consider other options for inspection:

  • the city conducts the inspection by hiring additional staff to do the job
  • put out a request for proposal (RFP) for an inspector to complete the work
  • create a list of approved inspectors that a property owner could choose from

Lenssen said the registration program might cost the landlords a meager fee. She said some cities they looked at charged the landlords $5 or $10 to register a unit.

She added that the workgroup who studied the registration program suggested waiving the registration fee for subsidized properties or an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), mom-and-pop with one to two units or single-family homes, and rentals that share rooms within the landlord's house.

However, the workgroup agreed to require everyone to register as a requirement to have the ability to gather information about rental units in the city.

Lenssen said cities with the program had inspections every three to five years for the inspection requirement. "We are not looking at updating the home that is not at current code standards. It would be mainly concerned with life safety."

Committee member Clark Gilman inquired how the city would give a ballpark estimate on the fees to cover the program's cost.

Leonard Bauer, Olympia Planning director, said there could be 12,000 to 14,000 units in the city. He based his estimation from the census that about 52% of city residents are renters. "We would probably use that as the basis for starting what this would cost us, along with the information from those cities."

Committee member and councilmember Jim Cooper asked Lenssen to get reports or further investigate the program's outcome in other jurisdictions.

Cooper added that he would likely support the open market inspectors with a framework they must follow. He said such an approach would help the existing home inspector industry and provide a more sustained level of business, especially when the real estate business is slower.

Madrone asked Lenssen to look further to determine the cost burden it might have to inspect a place.

Next steps

Lenssen said developing a rental housing registration program will require staff to:

  • Build a permit process in SmartGov and an application checklist
  • Create a fee schedule
  • Create a program structure with inspection requirements and timelines, and outline any applicable exceptions
  • Create a checklist for inspectors
  • Outline any enforcement processes or code requirements in the Olympia Municipal Code.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Miller19

    What is the point of this? How does this help landlords or tenants? It will likely warp the relationship.

    Saturday, November 19 Report this

  • AugieH

    The point? It's a revenue stream for Olympia that it can enlarge once every rental property is registered. It also creates a data infrastructure that will allow the city to increasingly regulate the property owners.

    Tuesday, November 22 Report this