Seems like a case of the system working the way it should to protect a citizen from a slacker landlord, right?
But the system gives landlords a generously long time to fix code violations. It is not as patient with problem tenants.
So, while her landlord still hasn't made most of the city-ordered repairs, Waddell is on her way to eviction. Her landlord wants to chuck her for nonpayment of rent, money she has withheld until he fixes the repairs.
"All I want is what I pay for every month: a roof that don't leak, a floor that's not sinking, a kitchen that's not collapsing, walls that aren't cracking, a ceiling that's not fixed with Silly Putty," said Waddell, who's already moved her furniture into storage for fear that her landlord will claim it to cover back rent.
Joseph Sutherland, the landlord, said that he is "a very good landlord" who wants to fix the violations, but "she won't let nobody in her apartment to do nothing." Two unaddressed violations, however, target areas outside Waddell's apartment, including a clogged basement drain and exterior rubbish.
An eviction hearing is scheduled for March 7.
Tenant advocates say that Waddell's plight is far from unusual and that reform is overdue.
"L&I has a lot more to do than they have staffing to do it, but they need to have the resources and the power to respond more quickly," said Phil Lord, executive director of the Tenant Union Representative Network. "Otherwise, these laws are meaningless. It means nothing to have rights if a landlord can evict you before you can exercise them effectively."
He added: "Forty-six percent of the city are tenants. We're talking about a lot of people, and the policies of the city don't reflect that."
L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy contends that since Commissioner Fran Burns took her post in 2008, she has instituted reforms to hold lousy landlords accountable.
For example, landlords now have just three chances to fix violations - instead of an endless time window - before L&I takes them to Municipal Court, where a judge can order repairs or levy fines. Kennedy could not provide numbers on how many landlords L&I takes to court.
That process, though, can take three months or longer. But evictions typically take just five to six weeks, said Mike Carroll, senior attorney at Community Legal Service's housing unit. With the complaining tenant gone, the incentive for L&I to force compliance evaporates, Carroll said.
"In my experience, L&I loses interest in a case and often actually closes the violations after an eviction order," Carroll said.
Court action is no guarantee of compliance anyway, Lord added.
"The fines are a slap on the wrist," Lord said. "So a lot of landlords do the math and figure it's cheaper to pay the fines than fix the roof."
There are answers, tenants' advocates agree.
Waddell discovered that Sutherland had been renting apartments in her building without a renter's license since February 2010. Under city law, landlords cannot collect rent without one - or proceed with eviction.
L&I issued him a new license Jan. 4, despite his failure to fix the code violations.
Kennedy defended the renewal, saying that L&I's crusade to find landlords with "lapsed licenses" and require renewal has proved successful at raising needed money while boosting oversight of the residential landlords. L&I collected $11.7 million in license fees on 240,000 rental units in fiscal year 2011, nearly double the $6.5 million it collected on 140,000 units in 2008, Kennedy said.
But critics say that L&I could force landlords to fix violations - or go out of business.
"They have the power to refuse to renew the license, and I think they should do that, when the violations are substantial and serious," Carroll said.
A city ordinance passed last summer requires landlords to provide certificates of rental suitability - proving that they have no outstanding code violations - to new tenants. The ordinance, though, doesn't apply to tenants who moved into their apartments before its passage.
Meanwhile, the Fair Housing Commission has taken on Waddell's case; a hearing is scheduled for the day before her eviction hearing.