SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed new legislation on Thursday to crack down on issues associated with vacant buildings. This comes after hundreds of complaints and several vacant building fires just this year.
Mayor Bruce Harrell said the goal is to strengthen the safety, security, management, and monitoring of vacant buildings in Seattle. He said the proposed legislation responds to an increase in nuisance, health and public safety risks associated with vacant structures.
The Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle is just one area that has several vacant buildings and has seen damaging fires at some of those buildings.
“The graffiti that's all over the buildings, plus a lot of the buildings, the homeless is running the buildings down,” said Carnell Thompson, who drives throughout Seattle for a security company.
Thompson said vacant buildings hurt neighborhoods, turning away customers from businesses.
“They're not trying to come out and buy something or whatever, when they know the homeless are going to be laying around, you know, around the building,” said Thompson.
Between 2021 and 2022, the City said there was a 25% increase in the number of complaints about vacant buildings in Seattle. This also resulted in more owners being cited for violations, with 345 violations last year compared to 284 the year before. This is why Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed this new legislation, to hold building owners more accountable to fix problems.
“We think they have an obligation to be an asset in the community and not an eyesore or a dangerous place,” said Mayor Harrell.
According to the City, so far this year there have been 29 vacant building fires that have resulted in three deaths. Last year at this time, there had only been 19 vacant building fires.
The City sent a statement from Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, who is in support of the proposed legislation:
“Fires in vacant buildings can present some of the most dangerous conditions for responding firefighters. The risks are often too great, leaving us to fight these fires defensively. We welcome the Mayor’s efforts to strengthen requirements that may prevent fires in vacant structures and provides a quicker path towards demolition or refurbishment.”
The proposed legislation would:
- Strengthen the standards for securing vacant buildings by requiring solid core doors, stronger throw deadbolts, and, in some cases, polycarbonate sheets rather than plywood.
- Require vacant buildings to be kept free of graffiti.
- Require any building that receives a notice of violation to enter the vacant building monitoring program, rather than just those buildings that fail to correct notice of violation by the compliance deadline.
- Simplify the process for police and fire referrals to vacant building monitoring.
- Authorize the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) to file a property lien to collect unpaid vacant building monitoring fees and abatement costs
Although Thompson said the buildings are an issue, he thinks more focus should be on homelessness and having more police patrols.
“Their presence is going to make people not hang around and do the bad things that they do,” said Thompson.
Mayor Harrell said he hopes addressing issues with vacant buildings can just be one way to make Seattle a better place to live.
“We're always looking for smart solutions, effective solutions, and then we'll try to implement and measure their outcomes,” said Harrell.
This proposed legislation still needs to be reviewed and voted on by the city council before it could be implemented.
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