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City code acts like a wall

After 18 months, several sleepless nights and debt accumulation, Federal Way resident Lorina Delfiero has been granted permission to operate her second adult family home.

Delfiero has attempted to register her business in Federal Way three times, she said at an Oct. 16 City Council meeting. But each time, the registration was not granted.

Adult family homes are considered in-home businesses in Federal Way, so Delfiero was told she must reside at her place of business in order to have it registered. The city’s code is in violation of state and federal codes, she said.

The city insists its code, which falls under in-home business zoning regulations, is legal and that miscommunications from both parties led to the city’s denial of Delfiero’s home occupation business registration, Deputy City Attorney Aaron Walls said.

On Oct. 26, the city notified Delfiero that she had been granted permission to register her business. The city chose to grant Delfiero’s registration because it was finally able to confirm she met compliance regulations, said Greg Fewins, interim director of community development services.

Operating an adult family home

Though Delfiero is relieved to have been approved for registration, the decision may have come too late to allow her family to recover from financial burdens resulting from the disagreement, she said.

“They deprived me of a way to earn a living,” Delfiero said.

In 1999, three years after moving to Federal Way, Delfiero opened her first adult family home on South 312 Street. An adult family home is a care place for the elderly. Here, the elderly can live on their own schedules and caretakers pay close attention to them, Delfiero said. They are able to live in a house with other occupants, rather than alone or in a nursing home, she said.

“This job is not for everybody,” Delfiero said. “You have to sacrifice your family for this.”

In April 2006, the Delfieros bought a home on 323rd Street in Twin Lakes, with intentions of opening a second adult family home, she said. She met all the state’s regulations and was granted a license to open her second business. She prepared it for residents. But progress came to a halt when the city refused to grant her a business registration.

Meeting city code:

In Federal Way, adult family homes are treated as residential homes in which in-home businesses are operated, Walls said. In order to register the business with the city (which is required to avoid fines), in-home businesses must meet the city’s class one home occupation regulations, code 22-1068.

This means the business owner must reside at the same location where the business is operated, Walls said. Regulations determining how much time a business owner must spend at the establishment in order to be classified a resident there have not been created by the city, he said.

Until March 2007, Delfiero was unable to provide information that proved she met the city’s code, Fewins said. The process of granting Delfiero the registration for her adult family home centered on determining how she planned to meet the city’s requirements that she reside at the place of her business, given that she planned to operate two businesses, Fewins said.

Also, city code dictates in-home business employees must reside at the residence and be family members, he said. Though the code is outdated, the city’s attorneys have not found it illegal, Fewins said.

“The way the city of Federal Way deals with adult family homes has not kept pace with where the industry is these days,” he said.

Struggling to continue operations:

By February 2006, Delfiero was beginning to feel desperate.

Cash was depleting, loans were accumulating, mortgage payments were building and credit card interest rates were growing, Delfiero said.

Her residents were leaving, which left her with little income to continue caring for the other residents and her own family, she said. Delfiero had a state license to run her home, so she began to care for residents. By state law, adult family homes are allowed to care for six residents, but Delfiero’s home was not full.

“Your sixth client is your salary,” Delfiero said.

She and her husband sold their home, but continued attempts to register her second adult family home. When meetings with city staff, in March 2007, got her nowhere, Delfiero prepared to sue the city, she said.

Before she proceeded, she wanted the City Council to know what she was going through.

“I lost my home, I lost my income, my clients,” Delfiero said.

It was 10 days after she spoke to the council that Delfiero received notice of the approved registration for her second adult family home. Prior to the city granting the registration, Delfiero had sought advice from James Dannen of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

Delfiero wanted a peaceful resolution between herself and the city. But, Dannen didn’t see this happening.

“The odds are better than even that we will have to sue,” Dannen said the morning of Oct. 26.

The city is giving its attorneys too much power to dictate its codes, Dannen said. He attests the city’s code violates state code RCW 35A.63.240, which says no city can enact an ordinance that treats a residential structure occupied by handicapped persons differently than any other residential structure. Dannen said the city’s code also violates federal law, The Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C., specifically sections 3604, 3615 and 3617.

Possible code revision:

Even though the city has now allowed Delfiero to register her business, she is still upset.

“It’s not right,” Delfiero said. “I really suffered from it.”

The city will review issues with its codes in 2008, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. The Community Development Services department has recommended the city alter its code in regards to adult family homes, Fewins said.

“Adult family homes are a whole different creature than a home-based business,” he said.

The code will be placed on a list of regulations the City Council must review, Fewins said. He is unsure how long it would then take to put that revised code in action, if the council approved one, he said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To learn more about Federal Way’s city code 22-1068, visit www.cityoffederalway.com and click on the city codes quick link.

To learn more about RCW 35A.63.240, visit the Washington State Legislature’s Web site at www1.leg.wa.gov/legislature/.

To learn more about the Fair Housing Act, visit the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel Web site at http://uscode.house.gov/lawrevisioncounsel.shtml.

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