Sep 27, 2023 - Development

Seattle takes aim at vacant buildings and graffiti

Illustration of a boarded up window with a target painted on the boards.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Owners of vacant Seattle buildings will need to better lock up their empty properties and keep them free of graffiti, under a measure approved Tuesday by the City Council.

Why it matters: When vacant buildings have code violations, they become magnets for people to enter illegally and cause more damage, building officials recently told the City Council.

Plus: Mayor Bruce Harrell has made getting rid of graffiti a priority for his administration, saying graffiti and tagging "detract from the vibrancy of our neighborhoods" and hurt local businesses.

By the numbers: Seattle officials said they saw a 41% rise in vacant buildings that were unsecured from 2021 to 2022.

  • At vacant properties that were locked up, the city saw a 57% increase in maintenance or safety violations year over year, according to the city building department.

Details: The new vacant buildings ordinance, which the council approved without objection, requires that building owners maintain stronger deadbolts and thicker doors on unoccupied properties.

  • Additionally, it lets the city require that some building owners use polycarbonate sheets to board up empty buildings, instead of plywood that is easier to remove.
  • The measure also aims to make it easier to collect fees from building owners that help pay for monitoring empty properties around the city.
  • Right now, many of those required fees are going unpaid, the city says.

What's next: The mayor, who originally proposed the legislation, is expected to sign it into law soon.

  • The new vacant building rules will take effect 30 days after that.

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