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.
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.