Residents say Tumwater ‘hostel’ poses health and safety threat

Several residents say their quiet Tumwater neighborhood has been disrupted by a house that doubles as a hostel.

For more than a year, neighbors have complained about constant traffic and late-night activity at the house at the end of 280 W Street SE.

Property owner Joel McCain said he rents rooms to at least a dozen people. Tumwatercited McCain for five code violations, including the operation of an unlicensed motel in an area zoned for single family residences. Other citations involved parking, garbage and rats.

However, this week a hearing examiner issued a decision in McCain’s favor. According to the examiner’s report, the city had testified that a business license is not needed if the rooms are rented on a month-to-month basis. The examiner found that garbage on the property attracted rodents.

In conclusion, the examiner ordered McCain to comply with city code and avoid violations for 24 months. The examiner authorized Tumwater to pursue abatement efforts, such as fines, if the terms are violated. The report noted that McCain has hired a pest control service and has cleared garbage from the property.

Suresh Bhagavan, associate planner with Tumwater’s code compliance division, said he had expected the hearing examiner to uphold all five violations. The city is now waiting to see if someone appeals the decision, he said.

“We always try to strive for compliance with regulations,” Bhagavan said. “We are not very interested in levying fines. From that standpoint, we hope that all the violations cease to exist.”

McCain bought the property and nine-bedroom house in February 2013. McCain, who lives in Olympia, said he started the Sheets in the Wind hostel at the Tumwater house out of compassion for the less fortunate. McCain, 32, also referred to renters living in the house as his children and family members.

“They’re just looking for a little bit of help. They just need a place to kind of relax a little bit,” McCain said.

McCain said neighbors had valid complaints about garbage and pests, both of which have been addressed. Some tenants work the graveyard shift, said McCain, adding that he has reminded renters to avoid loud activity outside after 10 p.m.

McCain and several neighbors testified at the July 23 hearing. Some residents told The Olympian that the property’s bothersome activity has calmed down since the hearing.

“There was a message received, but how long will that last?” asked Brian Benson, who has lived next door to the property for 20 years. Benson said the property has become a serious nuisance since McCain took ownership last year, and said he was glad to see the city take action.

Eric Henrichsen, who lives on W Street, said he is disappointed with the hearing examiner’s decision. The main problem is that the house attracts too much traffic on a residential street where children play outside, he said.

“The way they drive their vehicles up and down the street, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt,” he said. “I don’t think the house is going to change at all.”