Olympia passes rental registry despite strong public opposition


The Olympia City Council, on Tuesday, approved an ordinance establishing a rental housing registry and inspection program, which requires all rental property owners in the city to register their properties annually and undergo periodic health and safety inspections.

Housing Program Specialist Christa Lenssen said the rental registry aims to preserve the city's existing housing stock by properly maintaining rental properties.

In her presentation, Lenssen said that 48% of housing units were built before 1980, and over 3,000 were built before 1940. "While we need to continue building to meet demand, we also need to ensure we preserve our existing units."

Lenssen added that one of the goals of implementing proactive inspections through the rental registry program is to help reduce health disparities by addressing substandard housing conditions.

Citing the 2022 and 2023 Regional Assessment of Fair Housing survey, Lenssen said renters shared their housing challenges:

  • Nearly 60% of the respondents reported that high heating costs or insufficient heat is a concern in their current housing.
  • 48% of respondents were concerned by mold in their housing.
  • 45% of respondents were concerned by high cooling costs or insufficient cooling in their housing.
  • 33% of respondents were concerned by air quality and pollution.
  • 20% of those respondents indicated that they had experienced health impacts due to these conditions.

"Housing is a social determinant of health. Unsafe structural conditions can lead to falls and injuries. Leaks, mold growth, and pests exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions," Lenssen said. "Low-income families experience higher rates of asthma with children having the highest rates of asthma."

The program, Lenssen added, is designed to help the city achieve the goals of preserving housing stock, improving health and safety, making progress on climate goals, facilitating education and communication with landlords and tenants, and gathering data about rental units.

During the discussion, councilmember Dani Madrone noted that renters comprise 54% of the population. She said current challenges in Olympia's rental housing market include inadequate information on rental properties held by the city, deteriorating conditions of some aging rental homes, and obstacles that prevent tenants from reporting unsafe or unhealthy conditions to their landlords due to fears of retaliation.

The councilmember added that the proposed rental registry and inspection program aims to address these issues. It will provide the city with essential data on rental properties for the first time. The program implements best practices from over a dozen similar successful programs in Washington cities.

Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gilman commented that some landlords opposed added requirements but said the license and inspections every five years is a minor imposition to ensure basic safety standards for most renters.

Mayor Cheryl Selby was the only councilmember who voted against the approval of the rental registry ordinance. She questioned whether the program was the right tool, saying it is a "labor-intensive, costly FTE program that is going to insert this whole layer of bureaucracy in a system that works well."

"Solution in search of a problem"

Many community members opposed the rental registry ordinance during the public comment segment.

Former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs urged the city council to start over and do the process of developing regulations the right way. Specifically, he said the city should:

  • Identify the problem and gather data on the number of people involved, types of health/safety issues, severity, fatalities, and others. He noted that no real data had been presented. "All we have in the staff report is quotes from a handful of residents, which is extremely unreliable as a measure of any problems."
  • Look at possible government interventions to address the problem. Jacobs said this step had not been done either, as only one intervention (the rental registry) was considered.
  • Evaluate the possible interventions to determine which would do more good than harm and have the most significant benefit. "This step could not be done since alternatives were not identified," the former mayor said.

Jacobs argued that the council had approached it backward by choosing a solution first without gathering data or considering other options. He said this amounts to a "solution in search of a problem." He urged the council to analyze regulatory issues from the beginning properly.

Carter Nelson
Carter Nelson

Carter Nelson expressed concern that the rental registry program would increase costs for housing providers and residents in Olympia. She argued that the $35 per unit fee was the highest she heard across the state.

Nelson added that the ordinance would burden "good actors" providing housing in Olympia and not be conducive to the common goal of providing more affordable housing.

Nelson represented the Washington Multifamily Housing Association with 328,000 units in the state, with members owning or managing about 4,300 units in Olympia. She said the city left out their organization and members during the development of the program.

Cheri Piles
Cheri Piles

Cheri Piles, property manager with Northwest Property Management, proposed that the city create an exemption for landlords who had placed their homes with licensed property management firms like hers and allow these firms to perform and provide the city with inspections.

"Instead of imposing regulations on all landlords, I proposed to focus efforts on identifying and addressing specific issues related to problematic or negligent landlords through targeted enforcement. If passed, this will certainly be the demise of affordable housing within Olympia," Piles said.

Sara Black spoke as a rental property owner and employee of Olympic Rentals, a property management company. She said she was unsure of what problem this proposal was intended to solve since there are already regulations governing issues like maintenance, deposits, rent increases, pet deposits, and notices.

Black asked the city council to delay the approval of the proposal until more research could be done to determine the potential consequences.

Several community members raised concerns about how the rental registry ordinance would impact small, "mom and pop" landlords in Olympia.

Todd Monohon
Todd Monohon

Todd Monohon argued that formalizing landlord-tenant relationships through more regulations makes it harder to maintain the spirit of partnership between local, smaller housing providers and their tenants.


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

  • Claire

    Here's a guarantee for you tenants and rental property owners: Owners of.1, 2, 3, or 4 rental properties will sell their rentals instead of putting up with,and complying with, these onerous rules and regulations. This will result in less rental properties available and subject tenants to the whims of (Socialist hated and money-grubbing) corporations.

    The Olympia Shitty Council doesn't have a clue. Nor does the AG of Washington State.

    Mark my words.

    Thursday, November 16, 2023 Report this

  • DHanig

    Well, this is a surprise. The council has implemented a regulatory oversight program with no clear statement of the problem they are trying to solve. This and other measures recently passed will accelerate a trend for small landlords to exit the market. As they do so, two things will happen: 1) current rental homes will convert to owner-occupied and 2) the remaining rental stock will be increasingly dominated by large corporate landlords who can accommodate the increasingly demanding regulatory environment. Unlike "mom and pop" landlords, corporate owners will certainly charge the highest rents possible. This is already transpiring in Seattle, which our city council is emulating.

    Thursday, November 16, 2023 Report this

  • Paul49Knox

    I believe that my fellow Boomer landlords and Oly residents are missing the reality faced by the majority renters in Olympia.

    • I have been a landlord in Oly since 1992 and have had 6 houses/units over the years – I have 3 now within the City.

    • However, the date shows that housing is the single greatest challenge faced by folks right now – costs, availability, etc. Over 40% of our residents are stressed by housing costs over 40% or their income.

    • I believe that the City (and all cities) need to be able to communicate with their landlords to engage them on both challenges and opportunities. This registry ordinance enables that communication and gives the City an understanding of who are our landlords – which you don’t currently know.

    • Being a landlord is a business (and a good one at that in these times); I am befuddled as to why my fellow landlords are freaking out about $35 per unit per year given the average monthly rents in our region. I don’t believe that this will drive anyone to “leave the market”. Sorry – especially these folks (some friends) who bought houses cheap 6 years or 25 years back for under $150K.

    • I also realize that some are fearful of the “every five-year inspection”. Again – our food, healthcare and other critical human and public health needs are inspected regularly – (not every five years). So what’s the problem?

    • In my past I had a tenant under Section 8 HUD; the Housing Authority did inspections and I learned some helpful information from them. Yes, it was weird at first, but not a bad thing – and that was under HUD standards.

    • Housing is a basic necessity, and our government needs to support ALL are residents.

    Please quit crying fellow Boomers, understand our privileged obligations and help the current and future generations to succeed!

    Paul Knox

    Thursday, November 16, 2023 Report this

  • pheong

    having known more than one functioing slumlord, some mechanism is needed to FORCE the worst of the bunch to provide safe housing for the lease and rent amounts they pay. Think "John Buys Houses" gives much of real care(****)about making timely repairs? I had two conversations with him. He'll rely on his lawyers and his pots of money, of which he looooooves to brag.

    Rapid conglomeration of affordable property is occurring very much because of rapacious people like "John". Unscrupulous asswipes like him need the stick, the carrot has no effect.

    As with many poorly monitored and carelessly administered programs such as these, in this city, many funds will be wasted or slushed away. PBIA, anyone. Now here comes the next 'special' tax, DBIA, or some such thing. So, just what was PBIA for?

    A program is certainly in need to force some landlords into compliance. Hey, Dwayne, where are those repairs on my black house?

    Here s a program which can work if the onus and cost were gradually shifted to the worst offenders. Those property owners who meet hallmarks should qualify for lower fees.

    Unfortunately in this city, careful, well applied oversight is likely to never happen.

    Check out the property on Marion at the end of San Francisco street and you will see what few teeth the city's codes have. Yes, a slumlord I worked for. Dogshit in the yard, even on her side of her property and she with a ten-year old

    The owners to the east sod at a loss of 10's of K's just to be rid of the view and the stench of dog **** in the summer.

    Thursday, November 16, 2023 Report this

  • janedoe

    Something needs to happen. Last year I found myself dating a local landlord that used every trick in the book to skirt basic housing rights for renters by renting month to month and a list of others. He chose tenants by discrimination on their ethnicity and decided what they would behave like. he did zero background or credit checks and yet charged for them. I was astonished at how he ran his apartments and is part of why he's in the rear view mirror. Now, at the SAME time I had a friend move up to Olympia from Westport and found her apartment had black mold in the bathroom with two children. Her landlord just painted over the top and told her it was enough to solve the issue. Her whole family was having breathing issues and they relocated asap to get away from him. I say in one year I came across two of these selfish landlords that don't give one rip about anything past collecting their FULL rent. Go get em city.. do what you can to try to address the outlandish costs of housing and the landlords that can't seem to actually provide what they are being paid to provide.

    Thursday, November 16, 2023 Report this

  • AugieH

    As a landlord renting one single-family home with tenants now beginning their fifth year of tenancy (because they love the house and their landlord), I fear that a landlord registry only creates a target list that the city can refer to in the future when passing more intrusive micro-management ordinances. Do we want Olympia to become another Seattle?

    Friday, November 17, 2023 Report this

  • JulesJames

    I've been a landlord within a registration jurisdiction. Overall: 95% of tenants end up paying more for less, the other 5% will continue to rent into predatory housing. Predatory rental housing -- backyard RVs or single family houses chopped up into units without utility upgrades -- seems a growing problem. Landlords are running a business. They should be held accountable as registered businesses. Their product should be registered. But periodic inspections are a constitutional violation of tenant privacy and a practical impediment to improving the rental housing stock. If government inspectors are coming by looking to justify their program by calling out windows too close to door knobs, or doors that don't have automatic closers (I've been cited for both), voluntary investment into periodic upgrades isn't prudent business. Periodic inspections means spending the improvements budget on what supposed "safety" flaws some visiting bureaucrat writes up. Code enforcement upon complaint exists now and works now. That other 5%? Almost all will continue to find slumlords and illegal rent substandard housing the registration and inspection program pretends it can eliminate.

    Friday, November 17, 2023 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    Go read RCW 59.18 and then tell me how tenants aren’t protected. This is communism. Clearly the City doesn’t care and just wants to control everything.

    Friday, November 17, 2023 Report this

  • RobRichards

    "Strong Public Opposition" is a misleading headline and feels intentionally slanted.

    A slew of experts armed with data have presented a compelling case at city council meetings. The opposition, comprised of local landlords who see regulation and code enforcement as a threat to their profits, are dragging out the same magical arguments they did during the Missing Middle campaign. That fact is that rental registries already exist in cities across the country, including Raleigh, Seattle, Minneapolis, eight cities in California, and at least 20 in Texas, and more.

    Rental registries don't just help tenants dealing with slumlords who don't keep their units up to code. Knowing who owns what also helps mom and pop landlords. Understanding who small owners are—including their race, their rental portfolios, the demographics of the neighborhoods where they live, operate, and own rentals—is a key step in creating policies to equitably serve them. Home ownership is one of the key factors for building generational wealth, and there is a 30% homeownership gap between white and Black households- and a greater gap in rental property ownership.

    I'd ask my neighbors to look at the facts and the data. It all points to rental registries helping to address slumlords, giving tenants more protections, and will arm us with the data we need and don't have to help address inequality in our city. This is progress that we need.

    Friday, November 17, 2023 Report this

  • JkovOly

    Short-term rentals like Air-BnB are driving up the cost of housing and one of the highest contributing factors to lack of affordable housing. The city console should have gone much further in specifically targeting short-term rentals less than 1 month with even higher fees and inspection intervals. If all these short-term rentals were rendered "bad investments" imagine how many more houses would be affordable for first time, elderly and financially insecure home buyers.

    Friday, November 17, 2023 Report this

  • MrCommonSense

    Affordable housing is a problem, but more regulations and fees are not the answer.

    It is much riskier today for a landlord to rent a property than it used to be. Maybe the City of Olympia could also maintain a database of tenant's violations, i.e. failure to pay rent, lie about service dogs, get pets without the landlord's knowledge or consent, damage property, failing to maintain the property, sell drugs from the property, police complaints and police response, etc.

    I am curious about the accuracy to any survey that only includes "respondents"? If only one person is surveyed and that person responds they had a problem, that's 100%. And we know that folks who have problems are the most likely to respond. It would be great if the JOLT would publish the 2022 and 2023 Regional Assessment of Fair Housing survey referenced by Housing Program Specialist Christa Lenssen AND include the methodology used in the study.

    There are many things that have contributed to the rapid increase in rents. Consider the increases in property taxes, impact fees, permit fees, storm water fees, water, sewer, natural gas, repair costs, appliance replacement/repair, and dramatic increases in maintenance costs. The costs of nearly all of these far outstripping the rate of inflation. But the landlord is the responsible party for high rents?

    Many of the small landlords WILL be selling their rental houses in Olympia and elsewhere because managing them has become too much; more and more regulation, higher maintenance costs, and the problem getting stable, credit worthy tenants, legal expenses when required to evict a tenant, etc. And with property values so high, it's easy and less stressful to invest the equity elsewhere, receiving a good return w/o the headaches associated with being a landlord.

    Thanks for listening to another point of view.

    Friday, November 17, 2023 Report this

  • Honestyandrealityguy

    The landlords will have to pass these expenses to the tenants. And by the way, heating in the winter does cost money for pretty much everyone.

    Saturday, November 18, 2023 Report this

  • BobJacobs

    I'm with Mayor Selby on this.

    As I read this proposed "solution in search of a problem" I kept thinking of the term "nanny state". Yes, we need government regulation in some areas, and in many areas we need more, like banking and water pollution. But this is an area that does not need more regulation. In fact, new regulations imposed in recent years are onerous. And our local legislators promise more.

    This is largely window-dressing. An inspection of every rental unit every five years? How effective will that be between inspections?

    The good landlords and their tenants will be imposed on in order to get the bad landlords.

    Very disappointing.

    Bob Jacobs

    Saturday, November 18, 2023 Report this

  • Tired_Tenant

    Landlords (AND PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANIES) are scrambling, fearing they may finally end up accountable for all the dirty deeds they do to the tenants in our city! Any owner that is doing the right thing in their business will have no issue with these rules and regulations. Fact is, owners are making plenty of profits, constantly raising rents in the name of inflation, when their mortgage rates aren't increasing at the same pace, nor are their expenses.

    One property manager quoted in this article worked for a company I rented through for over 6 years, I got married, and there was no issue adding my husband to the lease for several months... but within a week of meeting my husband in person (he is not white).. I had a notice to terminate my lease in 20 days. During said move out, this property management company took over my home (I was only half moved out), stole my belongings, then lied about it! I was able to recover only a couple of items, then the joke of a court system took over. I won twice in court, then on the third attempt in court the property managers finally go the case in front of their golf buddy/church friend judge where I again was totally screwed, with the judge not even allowing me to bring forth my evidence or state my case in court. The company just changes their DBA and Facebook/social media pages when they get a bad review by a tenant so all seems kosher and rainbows and sunshine when new tenants/owners are reviewing and shopping around. In my opinion, the management companies are WORSE than the private small landlords-- these larger companies seem to be above the law in this city!

    Saturday, November 18, 2023 Report this

  • RustyS

    I just watched a presentation on Proactive Rental Inspection programs thinking wow this would be great in Oly. They are a way to implement regulations that are intended to reduce health inequities and disparities caused by lax local housing laws which deincentivize renters from reporting their landlords for not meeting minimum standards out of fear for retribution, deincentivize property owners from acknowledging poor living conditions out of fear of penalization, and deincentivize local governments fear taking sides between renters, landlords, and the overly powerful commercial real estate and property management interest groups. PRIs solve this through the proactive approach intended to establish a true minimum health and safety standard that is verified on a regular basis, and remove barriers for low and middle income and predominantly BIPOC renters from participating in local governance. As someone who is still a "mom and pop" landlord I can safely say I will not sell my investments. Indeed I will now sleep more soundly knowing a nominal fee will hold me, my property management company, and my local government more accountable to ensure the health and safety of tenants. For anyone who disbelieves there is data already supporting the need for PRIs, or their efficacy as a solution, here is Change Lab Solutions report and guide.


    Anyone who is a tenant in Olympia and believes they are experiencing housing discrimination and fear retaliation for seeking a solution should also know that the Olympia Social Justice and Equity Commission was created to help hold those with power accountable for their actions.


    Saturday, November 18, 2023 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    Among the many points about living in the Pacific Northwest is that the winters have lots of humidity. Mold is caused by cool moist temperatures in a house. If rooms are not heated here, there will be mold. Alot of new construction does not have a central furnace. Builders put small heaters in rooms because it is cheaper. Residents think they are saving money and then complain about mold in those same unheated rooms. Keep those doors slightly open in the whole house. Another point is look at the ceiling and see if there is a roof leak. Roofers can isolate and repair leaks in almost all weather. Enjoy the winter.

    Saturday, November 18, 2023 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    @Tired_Tenant, stop lying.

    Monday, November 20, 2023 Report this

  • jimlazar

    Olympia adopted the International Property Management Code about a decade ago. It already regulates things like mold, leaky roofs, windows that don't close properly, inadequate water, sewer, and heating systems.

    A tenant is always able to contact the City with an IPMC complaint. I did so as a tenant in my office building, and the City inspector was there the next day. A bad landlord will get fined by failure to comply with the IPMC.

    This new program is largely redundant to the IPMC. Yes, there is a difference between advance inspection under this new program and on-call inspection under the current program. But is it really worth an extra $50/month or whatever the rent will go up to pay for this new City program?

    Monday, November 20, 2023 Report this