Kent Council approves rental housing inspections, lawsuit against opioid makers

By Jack Mayne

A new city ordinance passed unanimously on Tuesday (March 20) will require that all rental housing units pass an inspection to ensure the facilities are “safe and healthy” before the owner can get a business license required to do business in Kent. State law says that such inspection cannot be more often than once every three years.

The Council also approved the city joining with many other municipalities across the nation in a suit against the manufacturers of opioids that many experts say is the root cause of surging drug addiction and resultant crime rates.

Rental housing inspections
City Principal Planner Matt Gilbert (pictured above) told the Council about the work on the city’s proposed new city rental inspection program which the new city ordinance says “came into being because some rental housing units with substandard conditions exist … and as a result of extensive community engagement, several common health and safety issues have been identified.”

“We believe this will really set a floor on housing quality in Kent,” Gilbert said, noting that inspections will “raise the cost a little bit, but it will make sure that the people of Kent will have safe, healthy housing and a level of dignity ….”

Council President Bill Boyce said the ordinance and the work that went into creating “definately deserves to be noteworthy” and said he hopes other cities will consider adopting a similiar ordinance.

Mayor Dana Ralph said that the common discussions on affordable housing is about only adding more units, but this ordinance will “ensure that the units that we do have are healthy and high quality.”

The ordinance will ensurse rental housing “meets specific minimum health and safety standards, requires a rental housing registration, inspection, and licensing program to promote code compliance,” Gilbert said.

He told the Council than many organizations worked with the city on the ordinance, including groups representing Iraqui, Somali and Burmese residents along with family and youth organizations.

“And lots and lots of tenants,” Gilbert said, who brought up rental housing problems including mildew, poor maintenance, lights that didn’t work, bathroom and sink fixtures that didn’t work, along with unworking heating and many problems with pests.

“What this program does is create an inspection requirement that will be linked to (required) business licenses,” said Gilbert. Tenant occupied building owners would be required hire an inspector to ensure the facility meets a city list of requirements.

Kent to sue over opioids
City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick said there have been many lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opiods because “these companies flooded the market with a very, very highly adictive drug under the guise of a perscription medication, that the risk of the medication was not properly exposed and the addiction in some cases was used as a strategy to sell more of the product and the dangers of the drug were not disclosed by the manufacturers or distributors.”

The result of the over perscription was that addiction increased and overdose deaths “increased dramatically.” He said studies show “that 80 percent of those who have become addicted to heroin in the past decade start with a prescription to OxyContin or another perscription opioid, and when their perscription runs out, people turn to street heroin.

Fitzpatrick said that “Kent has suffered immensely from this problem. Many of the homeless are heroin addicted, and property crimes have increased dramatically.” He added his prosecution division is heavily involved with opioid addiction criminal cases, and the jail is “saddled with medical issues related to opioid addiction.”

Many govenments around the nation have filed the suits in an attempt to “hold the manufacturers and marketers and distributors responsible for their actions,” Fitzpatrick said. “The real goal of the lawsuit is to obtain change in the way the opioids are perscribed” and for the industry to finance “the remedy for the problem.”

The suit, although there are federal law implications, would be filed in state court but the case “could and probably would be moved to federal court.” Many current cases have been moved to federal court in Ohio and Fitzpatrick said there are now 400 cases filed that are similiar to the one Kent would bring.

An Ohio federal district judge has ordered the cases there to “sit down and try to come to a global resolution” which Fitzpatrick said is unlikely to happen this year, but any eventual resolution would apply nationally similiar to the historic tobacco decision.

He said a potential law firm to handle the case is working with several other litigants and would be paid from any settlement reached, not by the taxpayers of Kent.

In a statement, Mayor Dana Ralph said that “heroin addiction has had a detrimental impact on the entire Kent community.”

“This drug has also caused an increase in crime, and burdened our jail, court and social service systems,” said Ralph. “To the extent pharmaceutical companies and marketers are responsible because of deceptive business practices, they need to be held accountable.”

Councilmember Brenda Fincher said that drug manufacturers “broke that trust” with people who first took the medications because of a legitimate reason, causing “a detriment to society.”

Councilmember Tina Budell said she wants the pharmaceutical companies to pay for “a way back for … and pay for what they did to our country.”

New police officers, awards
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas introduced and Mayor Dana Ralph swore in new officer Daniel Brom, formerly an Alaska State Trooper. The chief suggested the new officer could help convince other officers in Alaska to come to Kent.

The chief also gave the city’s valor award to Firefighter Jim Blatt who aided a police officer when a suspected intoxicated driver pulled out a pistol during a traffic stop. Blatt was “instrumental” in the arrest of the driver and “without his help the incident would have had a drastically different outcome.”

Thomas also gave “of the year” awards. Officicer Ian Warmington was named officer of the year; Officer Amber Horejsi was named correction officer of the year and Karen Wesson was cited as civilian staff member of the year.

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