City cracks down on home stuffing
EVERETT - Home stuffing is becoming a problem in Everett, and the city is cracking down on the practice.
Home stuffing is when landlords allow too many people to live in a home in order to make a quick buck. The city says the problem is on the rise as landlords are modifying single-family homes into multi-room units under the premise they’re operating a halfway house, which is rarely the case.
The landlords are exploiting a provision in the city’s code that allows up to eight unrelated adults to live together if the house is intended for people trying to get sober. The city is forcing these landlords to clean up their act.
The planning department has the full support of the mayor’s office to go after these landlords, planning director Allan Giffen said last week.
The Glacier View Neighborhood invited Giffen to speak about halfway houses in response to concerns there of home stuffing. Residents worry two now-closed adult nursing homes in the neighborhood could be turned into illegal halfway houses.
Neighbors worry these illegal halfway houses will bring unwanted people into the neighborhood such as sex offenders and recently released inmates.
Landlords are jumping into this business because they can scoop up houses in the foreclosure market, Giffen said.
One issue is these multi-unit houses attract recently released inmates. Landlords can make arrangements with the Department of Corrections to get a paid voucher to house former inmates, Giffen said.
The Bayside and Riverside neighborhoods have been impacted.
In one incident in Glacier View, a recent Department of Corrections inmate release, who had the wrong house address, frightened the homeowner when the released inmate told her “I’m here to check in; I just got released from prison,” and was adamant about being let in, neighborhood chair Robin Gossett said.
The city now is talking with the DOC about this, especially regarding registered sex offenders, Giffen said.
Gossett said neighbors are concerned sex offenders are saying they have drug or alcohol problems just to get into these halfway houses that have cheaper rent.
A man who declined to be identified in the press said he likes that the city is actively addressing the issue.
“I don’t have a problem with someone from the DOC becoming a productive member of society … but I want accountability on landlords,” the man said.
Glacier View has seen an increase in burglaries this year, the man said.
“I never thought something like this would happen where we live,” Gossett said. When Gossett and her husband bought their house, she said she never “thought we’d have multiple sex offenders in a house who have protections.”
Everett’s code allows for up to four unrelated adults to live in a house, but there’s a provision that allows up to eight adults if the residents claim to be alcohol or drug dependent.
A key court case in 1988 created the provision when a legitimate halfway house operation, Oxford House, sued the city of Edmonds when that city tried to shutter Oxford House for having too many people living in the house. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and Edmonds lost because the federal Fair Housing Act allows multiple “disabled” people to live in a home.
Today many landlords are abusing this halfway house rule, Giffen said.
“They say ‘we’re like an Oxford House, we’re a clean and sober house and clearly these residents are not,” Giffen said.
In some cases, the landlords offer jail cell-sized rooms for rent, Giffen said.
In one of the scariest cases, a modified house in the Riverside Neighborhood with its basement converted into four bedrooms caught fire and a disabled person could not escape from the basement. The result could have been deadly if the Everett Fire Department did not get there in time, Giffen said.
That house was condemned, he said.
Neighbors were shocked to learn landlords do not need to get a business license to rent out their property.
The City Council was swayed against requiring business licenses for landlords when the council caught flak for considering it years ago, Giffen said.
To find illegal halfway houses, code enforcement officials look for trouble signs such as non-permitted construction. Neighbors can report problem houses to the Police Department. One give-away clue is too many cars parked out front of a home.
“I’m aware there’s going to be abuses by landlords … but we can ensure it doesn’t escalate,” Gossett said.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published May 2, 2012