FOLLOWUP: New rules for vacant buildings advance out of City Council committee

(WSB photo, February 2017)

Remember the saga of that house in South Delridge, which stood for months after the third fire in five years? It was a reminder of city rules that make it difficult for nuisance houses to be dealt with – by the city and/or by their owners. Rule changes have been making their way through City Hall, and today, they won approval from the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee, after an extensive discussion and some amendments. In the Seattle Channel video below, it was the first item after a half-hour plus of public comment on various agenda items:

This has been an issue for many years – in 2009, North Delridge neighbors led a tour of problem properties, with City Councilmembers and department heads in attendance, and there was talk of changing the rules. No major changes ensued; at least one of the vacant houses featured in that tour is still standing, still vacant. The current proposal is summarized as:

Summary of the Proposal

Vacant Building Maintenance (SMC 22.206.200)
 Strengthen the standards for securing the windows of vacant buildings to require slightly thicker
plywood and fastening with screws rather than nails, and add the option of using clear polycarbonate
panels or other approved materials instead of plywood.

 Establish an expedited process for removing garbage, junk, or other debris from a vacant property if the owner does not respond to a notice of violation.

Demolition of Unfit Buildings (SMC 22.208.020)
 Establish an expedited process for ordering the demolition of a vacant building that can be documented
as hazardous.

Demolition of Housing (SMC 23.40.006)
 In instances when a final redevelopment permit has not yet been issued, reduce the length of time that
rental housing must sit vacant before a demolition permit can be issued … and expand this provision to apply in commercial, industrial, and multifamily zones (in addition to single-family zones).

(That’s from the start of the Director’s Report document you’ll find, along with other documents related to the bill, by going here. Among the docs is the following map, showing vacant-building complaints around the city:)

One concern long voiced has been that making it too easy to tear down vacant houses will reduce available housing stock. West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said it would be helpful to know more about the 200+ vacant buildings that are on the city’s radar, and which ones might be usable for housing. She also offered an amendment to try to toughen the scrutiny of demolition review for structures that might contain a “dwelling unit,” but it wasn’t approved.

Meantime, there was a compromise in a central provision of the new rules, reducing the waiting period required for demolition from 12 months after a building was last used for rental housing, to 6 months. (The original proposal was to cut it to four months; then there was a counterproposal for eight months; and six months was today’s compromise.)

After today’s committee approval, the rule changes move on to the full Council, likely in September, so if you have something to say about them before a final vote, there’s still time – you can start with Councilmember Herbold at, and/or contact all councilmembers via the info you’ll find here.

2 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: New rules for vacant buildings advance out of City Council committee"

  • Old friend August 15, 2017 (5:36 pm)

    Can someone enlighten me why a rental home must sit vacant for certain amount of time waiting for redevelopment permit? Seems like recipe for squatters and neighborhood problems. 

  • Lagartija Nick August 16, 2017 (10:05 am)

    This can’t come soon enough! I live next to a vacant tear down. The owners desperately want to rebuild, but they can’t get a permit to demolish the structure until they have the permit to rebuild. Meanwhile the meth heads case the place looking for a way in to squat. And the neighborhood kids scour the place looking for things to throw in the street at oncoming traffic for fun. It’s a mess.

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