Legislation would allow Seattle Fire Department to order demolition of unsafe vacant buildings

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SEATTLE — New proposed legislation would make it easier to demolish or remediate dangerous vacant buildings in the City of Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the legislation Thursday morning which he developed in partnership with councilmembers Tammy Morales and Bob Kettle, which would give the Seattle Fire Department the power to order complete demolition or remediation of unsafe vacant buildings.

Vacant building fires within the city of Seattle have been on the rise over the last few years. There were 77 vacant building fires in 2021, 91 in 2022, and 130 in 2023, and there have been 30 so far in 2024, according to city data. Vacant building fires require a large number of resources from the Seattle Fire Department and put firefighters lives at risk, according to Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. Three people died in vacant building fires in 2023.

This year, a fire that broke out in a vacant apartment building in the First Hill neighborhood required 100 firefighters to fight, shut down a major arterial street for several weeks and forced residents in neighboring apartment buildings to evacuate.

In District 2, represented by Morales, there were 60 vacant building fires between 2022 and 2023.

Property owners will be responsible for the costs to make the building or property safe. If property owners do not pay, the city will place a title lien on the property to cover the costs of abatement work.

The city has had a focus on remediating the danger posed by a number of vacant buildings within city limits in recent months. In September, the council passed an amendment to the city’s vacant building monitoring program, which made it easier to add vacant properties to the program and put more requirements on the owners of vacant buildings to secure their properties.

The vacant building monitoring program was developed in 2019, and inspects buildings that have been deemed dangerous or derelict monthly. Property owners of the vacant buildings are charged the costs associated with running the program.

The proposed legislation would go into effect immediately if passed by the city council.

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