Share story

STATE lawmakers should seize the opportunity in the upcoming legislative session and help ease the pain of renters who suddenly find themselves priced out of their apartments.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, plans to reintroduce a bill that would require landlords who seek to significantly increase rents to provide a 90-day notice to tenants. The bill also would expand income limits for renters to access tenant relocation assistance funds.

Statewide, landlords are only required to provide 30-day notice when raising rents. Seattle has its own ordinance requiring 60 days.

Stretching that time period to 90 days would help some of the most vulnerable renters — retirees, low-income families and others on fixed incomes — without causing a major market disruption. The law might inconvenience landlords, but not to the point of killing a real-estate deal or new development.

Proponents say the law would help those who have lived in the same place for a long time and then experience a sudden rent spike, or when an owner renovates the property or wants to match market rates.

Monthly apartment rents in King and Snohomish counties have surged in recent years from an average of $1,031 in 2010 up to $1,311 in 2014, according to Apartment Insights Washington.

Landlord advocates, however, argue that while rents are climbing no one collects data that prove large numbers of renters are being displaced.

But tenant advocates insist the extra time would help those who can’t afford a looming rent increase to save up for a deposit, first and last month’s rent, plus moving costs.

Providing tenant relocation assistance could also help. Under state law, the rarely-utilized program provides up to $2,000 or three times the monthly rent to tenants displaced from condemned buildings. The cost is split between the landlord and the city.

Kohl-Welles said she is still ironing out the details of her bill — her proposal last year didn’t come up for a committee vote. She hasn’t established a clear threshold for the advance notification — for example an increase of 10 percent or greater. And she’s considering what circumstances would qualify a tenant for relocation assistance. Another provision under consideration is to make the rules apply only in metropolitan areas of the state.

The key to any new housing policy is to consider if it makes sense during up and down economic cycles. In this case, giving people advance notice when rents rise could make the difference between a financial crisis or needed time to find a new home.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).