Seattle bill allowing vacant building demolition signed into law



(The Center Square) – Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has signed legislation into law that allows the Seattle Fire Department to conduct demolition of unsafe vacant buildings in the city.

Harrell proposed the bill last month in the form of “emergency legislation,” so with Harrell’s signature on Thursday, the law is immediately in effect.

The 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.

There have been 34 fires related to vacant buildings so far this year, according to the city.

Harrell mentioned an incident earlier this week in the Ravenna neighborhood in which a deadly fire occurred within a vacant building.

“The deadly vacant building fire that occurred in Ravenna this week emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach to ensure buildings are well secured and that the city can take swift action if structures fall derelict,” Harrell said. “This is not just a public safety issue, but also an equity issue as many of these dangerous vacant buildings are in neighborhoods with existing racial and economic disparities.”

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.

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.

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.

The Seattle Fire Department has identified over 40 vacant buildings within the city that are potentially impacted by this legislation. The department estimates that up to 10 properties may be addressed by this legislation each year.

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