Bellevue to rein in houses used as dorms

On Monday, Council discussed an emergency interim ordinance to address multi-room rentals in single-family homes.

When the residents of Spiritwood first noticed that their low-density, single-family neighborhood had seen a surge of redeveloped properties—among them a three-bedroom house renovated to eight bedrooms—they worried the changes could alter the character of the neighborhood.

Now council is responding to what they say could be a more pervasive housing model. On Monday, Council discussed an emergency interim ordinance to address multi-room rentals in single-family homes.

In May, residents of Spiritwood realized that at least five properties in a several block radius were owned by a handful of property owners, several of them seemingly related. Neighbors suspected the rooms were being rented out to students desperate for housing in the wake of Bellevue College’s transition into a four-year institution. A mediation meeting late last month, revealed that the buildings were being used as “shared housing,” or what neighbors called a “purely economic model.”

Though the city is undergoing a comprehensive plan update, Bellevue code doesn’t currently provide a means to address this housing model. Councilmembers and staff responded to neighborhood comments by touring Spiritwood, coordinating mediation and voting to bring back this emergency ordinance two weeks out, for council review and approval.

The drafted motion to be reexamined at the end of the month could revise the definition of family from six unrelated people to four unrelated people acting as a unit. Amendments could also be made to demonstrate that unrelated individuals operate as a family with a shared lease arrangement, utility expenses, common areas and other circumstances. A new definition of “rooming house” could also be included and defined as roomers housed for profit, operating outside the city’s definition of family.

“It was a good night,” said Stephanie Walters of the Spiritwood neighborhood, who was in attendance Monday. “It was a really good night…This has been quite encouraging and enlightening. It makes me feel very good about our leadership.”

Because the new language of the emergency ordinance could make certain homes in Bellevue permitted one day and in violation the next, Council, asked to let the ordinance percolate over the next two weeks.

“[Council] saw the urgency of addressing this,” explained Emily Christensen, director of Communications for the city of Bellevue. “We have seen a growing interest in multi-family leases in single-family homes, and so the Council…is going to address this with both a short-term look and a longer-term approach.”