New processes for inspection of vacant buildings took effect on June 1, 2019. The changes add a wider range of properties to the City’s Vacant Building Monitoring program, including all properties with active development proposals containing a vacant building. The frequency of inspections increased from once a quarter to once a month. We estimate that this will add approximately 1,200 new properties to the program this year and can reduce the risk of vacant buildings becoming a blight on the community. In the past, SDCI monitored around 100 properties each year with consistent vacant building violations.
In 2016 and 2017, we experienced a dramatic increase in complaints about vacant buildings, including unauthorized entry, accumulation of junk around structures, and public safety issues such as fires, rodent infestations, and criminal activity. Legislation passed in 2017 imposed stricter maintenance standards and removed some regulatory barriers for demolishing vacant buildings.
During 2018 and early 2019, we provided City Council with information about how other cities monitor vacant buildings and what challenges we might face in expanding the monitoring program. As part of the budget process in November 2018, the city adopted Council Bill 119407, which made significant changes to our Vacant Building Monitoring program. Council Bill 119497, signed in April 2019, refined the proposal to help us manage the dramatic increase in the frequency of inspections and number of buildings to be monitored under the program changes.
The new legislation also raised the vacant building monitoring fees by three percent. Fees are charged in three levels:
- Vacant but no violations: $261.40
- Vacant with violations but not open to entry: $435
- Vacant and open to entry: $521.75
To accommodate the increased number of inspections required by the monitoring program, we hired three new inspectors. Our case tracking software was also updated to accommodate enrollment, tracking, and billing for this expanded version of the monitoring program.
As of June 1, properties in development that include a vacant building will be enrolled in the program during the permit application process. They will be inspected at least three times under the program. If inspectors find no violations, the owners will be charged at the lowest monitoring fee rate. Properties must have no violations for three consecutive monthly inspections in order to be removed from the program.
We encourage owners to explore ways to keep buildings occupied during the permitting process. This extends the use of existing housing and maintains a better property condition for the community. Strategies might include working with non-profits to place caretakers on the property or, for commercial properties, coordinating with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture to house an art space.
Our complaint-based system to respond to vacant buildings is still available. Neighbors who see a vacant building that is not properly secured by the owner may call (206) 615-0808 or visit our Seattle Services Portal to file a complaint.
Maintenance and security of vacant buildings continue to be the responsibility of the property owner. Vacant buildings unto themselves are not illegal but do require a consistent level of oversight and maintenance to discourage trespassing or other criminal activity.