Edmonds man, city at odds about how to address guest house rule

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Russell Cranny is currently living in an apartment above the garage on his property.  He rents out the main house as a source of income.  City of Edmonds codes prohibit "accessory dwelling units" such as this that share the same property with a primary dwelling unit.
Russell Cranny is currently living in an apartment above the garage on his property. He rents out the main house as a source of income. City of Edmonds codes prohibit “accessory dwelling units” such as this that share the same property with a primary dwelling unit. (Photos by Larry Vogel)

For the past two years, Edmonds resident Russell Cranny and City of Edmonds code enforcement officials have been discussing what to do about his living situation. That’s because Cranny rents out his house in the 9400 block of 232nd Avenue West and lives in a detached garage with a guest house on his property.

Cranny says he made that decision after the recession hit and he lost most of his investment income. After many years working as an electrician, he has chronic back issues and has been on state disability. To pay his mortgage, he rents out the house and has been living in the guest house.

Russell Cranny in the living area of his apartment above the garage.
Russell Cranny in the living area of his apartment above the garage.

But city officials received complaints from the neighbors, which prompted the city to look into the living situation in 2012. And they discovered he was violating city code.

According to City Development Director Shane Hope, when Cranny’s house was built in 1985 it was part of unincorporated Snohomish County and the garage was defined as a guest house. Under county rules, that meant no kitchen and for use as sleeping quarters only.

The property was annexed into Edmonds in 1997, Hope said, “and when annexation occurs, legal uses can continue.” Which means, in essence, that Cranny’s other building is still considered a guest house.

The issue came to a head earlier this week when Cranny found a red tag on his door with an order to correct the violation, with a fine of $100 for every day that he is not in compliance. So he went to a Seattle television station and on Tuesday the station aired his story. Although, Hope pointed out that part of what the station said wasn’t accurate: The city is not kicking Cranny out of his home. “We’re trying to work with him,” she said.

One option that Cranny had suggested – that the city waive parts of the code to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled person – does not look like it will work. The City Attorney did consider it, Hope said, but on Thursday afternoon determined “that the disability exception doesn’t apply to this situation. At this time, Cranny could still submit a written request to the department for the exception and it would be formally considered and a final decision made, Hope said.

“We are continuing to explore all options with Mr. Cranny and I’m confident we can find something workable, that also addresses the neighbors’ concerns,” she said.

Cranny could subdivide the property, and if he chose to do that, the city would delay any enforcement action while he went through that process, Hope said. She estimates that subdividing would cost Cranny “a few thousand dollars” but Cranny said he has been told by acquaintances that the process could run him as much as $20,000. “I’m broke — I don’t have $20,000,” he said.

Hope says that other ideas, such as having only a microwave and sink in the guest house, instead of a full kitchen, are possible. The city could also consider changing the code to allow guest houses or separate “mother-in-law apartments” with full kitchens in single-family residential zones.

Cranny said one option would be to appeal the City Attorney’s ruling, and he may do that if he finds a lawyer willing to take his case for free. “I don’t like suing anybody,” Cranny said. “To me, it is a matter of an accurate interpretation of the law” related to disability accommodations, he added.

Meanwhile, Hope remains optimistic that a solution can be found, including the possibility that Cranny can create a separate living until in the basement of his existing house.  “I would like to help in any fair manner that I can,” she said.

 

 

46 COMMENTS

  1. I’d like to know exactly what the original complaints were about. It seems like his neighbors have stuck their noses into something that is none of their business.

    • Thank you. The original order arrived 1 day before returning from Afghanistan where I worked as an Electrical Contractor. Shortly afterwards I applied for and receive Social Security Disability after 43 years of work.

  2. Two years? Investing how many thousands in the process? Sees like one of thiose situations where some common sense and some neighborly mutual accommodation would be the way to go.

    • I’ve seen your property when passing by, it’s definitely very unique. They have such a feeble excuse for involvement I’m sad to see it’s taken so seriously. People should be able to recognize the efficiency of the arrangement you seem to have worked out, especially given your circumstances. Good luck with the City, luckily I’d think most people would see your side.

  3. Dear Edmonds City Administration, is the article correctly quoting you when it reads “such as having only a microwave and sink in the guest house, instead of a full kitchen, are possible.” If that’s true, I will carry an American Flag through downtown Edmonds in celebration.

  4. I bet a neighbor had a problem with him or one of the tenants he rents to about something else and later the City felt compelled to at least look like they’re doing something. Then they find a building regulation and realize to they can stick him for more money while they’re at it. Talk about getting kicked when you’re down. What a joke.

  5. Russell,
    As a fellow citizen, please know that I have experienced the Code Enforcement process. It had, and continues to have a major impact on my life. I just spoke about it again during public comments at last Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. I encourage you to watch my comments online – I spoke right after Stephen Clifton at about the 8:20 minute mark.

    My opinion is that citizens need to understand that the City has a history of being unethical and even misrepresenting its own laws during the Code Enforcement process.

    In my case, the City issued five “Order to Correct Violation” notices and then a “Notice of Civil Violation” was issued. As the City did this, it continually changed and modified its code enforcement notices as it tweaked its aggressive attack on my private property.

    During that process, the City discussed Ordinance No. 3696 in its private meetings. That law should have grandfathered my accessory building, but the City kept the information from me. I eventually discovered Ordinance No. 3696 and presented the law to the Hearing Examiner along with evidence that my building had existed since the 1960’s. The former City Attorney interrupted and told the Hearing Examiner that grandfathering applies to legally initiated uses, not illegal uses. The Hearing Examiner acted as if what the former City Attorney said was true. It was not true as Ordinance No. 3696 established a grace period for structures in existence prior to January 1, 1981, whether the buildings were legally initiated or not.

    The City Council has the legislative authority to grandfather uses that were illegally initiated. The current City Council is very aware of this as it passed Ordinance No. 3962 unanimously on February 25, 2014. Ordinance No. 3962 grandfathered AT&T’s illegally initiated wireless facility that was not permitted upon its establishment. This is very similar to Ordinance No. 3696, which grandfathered accessory buildings that existed on or before January 1, 1981.

    Russell, one other possibility is that the City Council may be able to pass an Ordinance grandfathering your use. The Council just did so for AT&T, so maybe they will consider doing so for one of the City’s own citizens.

    I am going to start researching your situation to learn more. Please know that I would consider it a privilege to meet with you to discuss whether or not any of my experiences would assist you in any fashion.

    • There is a precedent for grandfathering ADU’s which were in EXISTENCE prior to February 1, 2000…maybe the City will pass a law to grandfather Russell’s use:

      ECDC 20.21.050 Preexisting accessory dwelling units.
      That portion of a single-family residence which meets the definition of accessory dwelling unit which was in existence prior to February 1, 2000, may continue in existence provided the following requirements are met:

      A. An application for an accessory dwelling unit which meets the appropriate criteria contained in ECDC 20.21.030 is submitted within one year of February 1, 2000. The planning manager may waive the size limitations contained in ECDC 20.21.030 if he or she finds that the reduction of floor area required to bring the preexisting unit into compliance is impractical to achieve.

      B. The unit complies with the minimum requirements of the Uniform Housing Code. [Ord. 3294 § 1, 2000].

  6. Russell,
    One other quick point – I believe the burden of proof is on the City to prove that your use violates the City’s codes.

    I mentioned how the City tweaked its code enforcement efforts in my case. One such tweak required me to prepare a “work plan” documenting how I would remove my accessory building. I was required to prepare this “work plan” against my will prior to the City meeting its burden of proof that I had actually committed a violation.

    Be very aware of the tactics the City has used in the past.

  7. We walk many, many alleys in Edmonds that have people living in the garages or back of the lot buildings. I have always commented how nice it is that Edmonds allows this and we should have a tour map and tour of the Alleys of Edmonds.

    From what I have seen, the City of Edmonds is not fair to all, and it definately depend
    s on WHO you are. If someone (neighbors or whoever) have a grudge against someone, I have no doubt, depending on who you are, you can get this city to do anything……with the right connections. I also believe there are residents who can break the law if they choose…….along with the city. ……and are allowed to do it for years…..along with the city

    We are a country of laws, and the city needs to start making right, past laws that have been broken by administrations now and past administrations.

    The law is supposed to be blind so that it is applied equally to everyone. We are supposed to be a civilized country and that is why we have laws and carry them out

    Clearly Edmonds does not update its Codes and uses convenient cherry picking depending on who you are regarding those.

    The citizens of Edmonds need to stand up for those who are vulnerable and do not have a voice with the city. Its about Fairness……and I believe on one of the light fixtures in the Town Council chambers, there are different etchings on glass for those lights above and behind the council and regarding JUSTICE.;…..and one of those appears to have the word “fairness”

    . The citizens of Edmonds need to demand that this city has a code of ethics for all, including the staff follow that code along with the rule of law. And someone with the city needs to stand up against past wrongs, and make them right…………..I don’t care if it’s 50 years ago …….People should not have to suffer because of past unfairness, laws broken, etc. It’s about doing the right thing….It’s about being civilized!

    Edmonds Spring

  8. Great points Tere, I continue to call the City of Edmonds to meet a higher ethical standard, establish a Code of Ethics and an independent Ethics Board. I fear this City has greatly impaired trust and needs to have the courage to start working hard to rebuild that trust.

    Russell, I see nothing on the City’s website so far that will help me research your situation. I’ll keep looking….

  9. Ken, as you are aware the council is the body that has to pass an ethics code and enforcement policy. It has been looking at it for over two and 1/2 years. One has to wonder why it is taking this long. The council did pass a code of conduct policy but provide no way to enforce it.

  10. Great point Don. By the way, you did a great job making public comment about such on the evening of September 16th. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to be there and speak.

    Following is the related excerpt from the September 16th City Council Meeting Minutes:

    Don Hall, Edmonds, referred to the minutes of the Public Safety and Personnel Committee meeting, commenting it was great to see that a code of ethics was getting close to reality. The minutes reflect Councilmember Fraley-Monillas’ suggestion that enforcement be a separate policy. He agreed it probably should be, but if they are not passed together there is no reason to have a code of ethics because without a
    policy and procedure to address potential violations and a public process to resolve complaints, a code of ethics is only a piece of paper that means nothing. He feared if the code of ethics and enforcement policy were not adopted together, it would take another 2½ years to adopt an enforcement policy.

    Back to Russell:

    Russell – the City is required to have an express procedure available by which citizens may bring errors to the attention of their government and thereby guard against the erroneous deprivation of their interests.

    I believe one such procedure is the “administrative hearing” discussed in ECDC 20.110.040.A.2.g.

    Have you been provided this Administrative Hearing yet?

  11. The city has only one Code Enforcement Officer. Citizens need to know that code enforcement is done only when a complaint is received; there is not someone travelling around the city indiscriminately enforcing codes.

      • Thank you for putting this link up, Mr. Proudfoot!

        Everybody in our town should watch this……Yes, show up! be present!

        We can do anything…………………..together, all of us

    • The Code Enforcement officer is Mike Theis. He’s actually a decent guy. The City and I interpret their Article 17.05 differently. I’ve contacted Senator Patty Murray, asking her to review the ADA Act, Article 17.05 and my situation

    • Ron – the City’s code does not say that code enforcement is done only when a complaint is received.

      ECDC 20.110.040 clearly states that “Whenever the community services director (Patrick Doherty) or his/her designee becomes aware that a violation has occurred or is occurring, he/she may issue an order to correct violation to the property owner or to any person causing, allowing or participating in the violation.”

      Notice the use of the words “may issue” instead of “shall issue”. This creates a situation whereby City staff can pick and choose who they enforce the Code against, commencing formal civil enforcement proceedings against certain citizens while ignoring similar potential violations across the City.

      The City certainly accepts complaints – it is one of the ways they become aware of a potential violation. It is definitely not the only way City Staff becomes aware of potential violations.

      Enforcing the code against certain individuals while ignoring the same violations at other addresses is extremely arbitrary and unjust.

      • Ken:
        My point is that the city does not proactively look for code violations. The Code Enforcement Officer acts on complaints, as does the Community Services Director.

        • Ron – Mike Thies CLOSED the code enforcement request against my property on July 24, 2007. Almost 2 years later, City staff issued me the first of its flawed Order to Correct Violation notices on March 25,2009. Why would the City act on a closed complaint nearly 2 years after it was closed?

          I believe that enforcing the code against certain individuals while ignoring the same violations at other addresses is extremely arbitrary and unjust.

          Suppose that there is the same code violation at two different addresses, Address A and Address B. The City has equal awareness of both violations because the Community Services Director drives by both addresses every day on his way to work. Neighbors to Address A file a complaint, but not neighbors of Address B. Do you think it is proper for the City to code enforce against Address A only while ignoring the City’s knowledge of the same violation at Address B?

        • Ken:
          I’m assuming that your illustration is hypothetical. If it’s a real situation then of course enforcement should take place with both properties. Sometimes there are relevant factors that we are not aware of. I know that I have brought what I thought were violations to the attention of Mike Thies, and he was able to give me reasonable reasons for not taking any action.

        • Code enforcement should be applied equally to all potential violations that the City is aware of, but I strongly believe that it is not.

          And sometimes there are factors like one citizen secretly negotiating code enforcement against another citizen as part of a settlement with the City of Edmonds – and then, amazingly, the City takes that code enforcement action.

          I spoke with Russell today. I hope many citizens will come to his support and loudly support him.

      • Yes, I believe it was Carol Nickisher living on Edmonds Street and Sunset Ave. that received a citation from Public works to cut her shrubs that at the time were not as bad as many all the way down Sunset to the antique mall. We walked that street and noticed that just about everybody at that time had shrubs/trees hanging over, and many with more than hers yet she received the citation. This was right after Ms. Nickisher had stood before the Town Council with a list of 77 signatures of people saying they did not want Sunset Avenue changed. We passed Mr. Williams that very morning on the street as we were walking Sunset. ……………..Seems like a stretch to believe it was coincidental, as she was the only one that we saw or heard that got a citation

        Yes, unjust and extremely arbitrary.

  12. The Code Enforcement officer is Mike Theis. He’s actually a decent guy. The City and I interpret their Article 17.05 differently. I’ve contacted Senator Patty Murray, asking her to review the ADA Act, Article 17.05 and my situation. The City is doing there job with patience and grace. But I think they are missinterpreting Edmonds Zoning Ordinance 17.05 of the ADA.

    The original order arrived 1 day before I returned from Afghanistan where I worked as an Electrical Contractor. Shortly afterwards I applied for and receive Social Security Disability after paying that tax for 43 years. I was 56. That’s a lot of years in the trades. .
    I can’t tell who’s more tired, me or the horse I’m riding? I just hope we get to keep the ranch. My address is 9430 232nd St SW, Edmond’s. My cell # is (206) 678-4218.

    Thanks for your support.

  13. Oh for Gods sake, lets get this thing fixed. Everyone show up at the council meeting on Tuesday Oct 7th and say your piece under audience comments. If needed ask the council to change the code. I will be in out of town but will have a letter read into the record. Lets do this.

  14. I it is horrible and sad that your “neighbors” caused all this conflict. I drive past your house 2-3 times a day. It always appears neat and well kept.
    There are so many other homes in the Edmonds area that have trash and unkempt yards. Sounds like a neighbor got their knickers in a bunch about something and knows a management person that works for the City of Edmonds. They in turn have stirred the pot to create this mess.
    Is it really so bad that someone is trying to save their home from foreclosure? I would rather have someone living there rather than having an empty house. I could never have on my heart that I helped someone lose their home. It is a great looking house. Maybe someone is trying to get rid of him so that they can purchase the home for their own gain.
    Either way, Shame on these Edmonds residents. They do not sound like “neighbors” to me. Do they not realize all the expense involved for the city such the cost of court hearings, city inspector visits, administration assistant typing up orders, and the list goes on. Not to mention the all the emotional and financial issues for Russell.

    Good luck. May this be resolved quickly and in your favor.

  15. I’m with Steve Ward, the first commenter on this article: I’d like to know exactly what the original complaints were about. How in the heck are the neighbors negatively impacted by Russell’s living arrangement?

  16. Council chambers are at 4th and Bell 7pm every Tuesday except 5th Tuesday’s which are for committee meetings. Everyone gets 3 minuets to tell the council what they think. I hope the room is packed with all of the people who wrote comments. This is how we as citizens get things accomplished. For info. cal 425 – 775-2525. Good luck Russell.

  17. This is the latest development as it pertains to me and Edmonds City Hall. Today, Monday the 29th, 2014 I met with Shane Hope at the City Development Building, 2nd floor offices. Shane and I discussed options that require cooperation, reasonable time lines, and good faith on both our parts. I’ll explain what I understood the City will proactively do on their part. Then I’ll define my part as I understand it. But first I would like to acknowledge that for now, “The Red Tag” is now inactive and no $100.00 per day fines” are now imposed or accumulating. During this time I get to remain in my house without a kitchen, providing we both continue in good faith. There are no fixed timelines. And I should mention I’m open for most any dinner invitation, so long as the food is cooked.

    Here is the list of things I understand the City of Edmonds is considering. This list has no priority format or probable outcomes. It’s just a list.

    1. The City intends to take a second look at the ADA article and reconsider it.
    2. At an unspecified date the City Council may hold for discussion and vote to amend the ADA article. The change, should there be one, may or may not affect my situation. It will amend the article for greater clarity. It might help my cause.
    3. The City is favorable to creating two single family dwelling lots from the half acre.
    4. The City is favorable to adding an ADU to the main house

    Shane Hope was consistent with how MyEdmondsnews.com projected her. Shane was professional. She did her best to present possibilities while identifying fixed requirements. For my part, as I understand it I’m to respond in good faith by providing the following:

    1. Present informal / preliminary sketches and written details of a proposed ADU to the grade access basement of the main building. Include timelines.
    2. Formally request reconsideration of the standing interpretation of City of Edmonds ADA Reasonable Accommodations’ Article 17.05
    3. Further explore and document any progress in sub-dividing the ½ acre.

    It may only matter to US Senator Patty Murray, but I did mention to Shane Hope that on September 26th 2014 I had been in touch with the Senators Seattle office and formally requested someone from the Senators staff become part of the resolution process. It’s a little early yet to expect those results. But I’ll sure let everyone know how that part goes, even if it goes nowhere. Who knows, maybe there’s more government working for us then we think.

    Thanks for following and your comments. Dinner anyone?
    Russell Cranny. (206) 678-4218

  18. You can come to our house any ol’ time for dinner, Russel……Bert Sommer, We’re All Playing In The Same Band comes to mind

    “We’re all playing in the same band
    There’s enough guitars for you and me
    Stand beside your brother and take his hand
    Seems the times are changing finally

    We’re all playing in the same band
    Sing the song together and you’ll see
    Let them know forever just where you stand
    People must be learning finally

    And we’re all playing in the same band
    We’re all playing in the same band
    We’re all playing in the same band

    Oh, him, her, you and me
    Them and those, he and she
    And we and we

    Him, her, you and me
    Them and those, he and she
    And we and we

    We’re all playing in the same band
    There’s enough guitars for you and me
    Stand beside your brother and take his hand
    Seems the times are changing finally

    Whoa, oh, oh
    And we’re all playing in the same band
    We’re all playing in the same band
    We’re all playing in the same band”

    • Ya sound like a neighbor, who doesn’t quiver
      Takes small things in stride, and flows like a river
      It’s that extra plate post that makes you a host
      And invites like this, that cause me to coast
      But let’s cut to the quick, and make it a date
      If you’re still barbecuing, I’ll bring the steak

  19. Today with my property I strive to make a contribution to the neighborhood. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the worst of times were those times I rented my houses to drug addicts, felons, felons on the run, misfits and fellow Americans of our own blood. Shallow consideration for neighbors was my trump card while I worked in Afghanistan. My neighbors aren’t at fault. I am. These aren’t busy / body neighbors. These are neighbors with schedules that make America and our families work. My tenants did neither. To my neighbors I reach out with gratitude. To others please let me offer this for your support. Sometimes the one thing you have to offer completes an opportunity. We decide together or we have chaos. Thanks neighbors. Thanks public. If you wanna know, I’ll keep you posted.

  20. I feel for Russell. I on May 12 closed on my property about 5 blocks from his. On May 23rd my young family moved in. We chose our property and by extension Edmonds to raise my 7yo son in because of the perceived balance between economic development and the environment. I explicitly chose my property for the beautiful stand of “Old Growth” trees on the property. Boy was I wrong and now in a nightmare battle trying to get the City to enforce the ECDC code against a Seattle developer. And they want to do this to Mr. Russell? Against several parts of their development code they approved a 10 Townhouse development on a .5-acre lot and allowed the whole lot to be clear cut on my rear property line. There were 13 “Old Growth” trees on that lot, one over 42″ in diameter. If not bad enough now, the developer has excavated 5′ down at the property line and severed the roots to 4 of the trees on my property. This has made them unstable and now a danger to my home and family. THis one week after moving in. This in direct violation of ECDC code 18.45.050 (H) along with 2 RCW codes. All I get from the department is a blank stare. I will be at every Council meeting, Department meeting and pursuing other recourses. Once again we see the obvious corruption or at least complete incompetence of our city goverment. I for one will not stop until there is a change in how the city operates. I expect to die in my home, giving me several decades to be a burr under their saddle.

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