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Proposed Seattle vacant building demolition bill could cost city up to $500,000

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(The Center Square) – An emergency bill to allow the Seattle Fire Department to conduct demolition of unsafe vacant buildings in Seattle would cost the city up to $500,000 this year before potential reimbursements.

The emergency legislation was proposed by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell on Thursday. The Seattle Public Safety Committee was briefed on the proposed bill on Tuesday.

Harrell’s emergency legislation comes as a result of the number of fires in vacant buildings surging in recent years. According to Harrell’s office, there were 77 vacant building fires in 2021, 91 in 2022, and 130 in 2023. Three of the 130 fires were deadly.

Through April 15, there have been 30 fires in vacant buildings in 2024.

According to a fiscal note, the city would have to develop a blanket contract with several vendors if the bill is passed and the city fire code is amended. The costs associated could range from $350,000 to $500,000 this year.

According to Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, the legislation would push owners of the vacant properties to comply with the city’s fire code, and reimburse the city for the associated expenditures. Scoggins noted that some property owners fail to comply with the city.

“It is our hope that this legislation will help property owners come into compliance, but we are realists also because we have been managing this challenge for quite a while,” Scoggins said at the committee meeting. “We do have some properties that we just don’t hear from.”

If property owners do not pay for the costs associated with demolition, the city will place a title lien on the property to cover abatement work costs, which can vary significantly depending on the size of the building, degree of damage, the presence of asbestos and other conditions.

According to a fiscal note, revenues may not be received in the same fiscal year as expenditures occur, and could require multi-year support for the bill until reimbursement is received.

“There is not currently a guarantee of financial recovery,” the fiscal note states.

Vacant buildings that do not meet city standards or are in the development process currently get placed in a vacant building monitoring program. If the city cleans up or closes a property on behalf of the property owner, they are billed for the costs. Fees for monitoring vacant buildings range from $271.85 to $542.60 per month, depending on condition.