Seattle landlords would be barred from hiking rents on apartments with severe health and safety problems under legislation proposed Wednesday.
Seattle landlords would be barred from raising rents on housing units in very poor condition under new legislation two City Council members proposed Wednesday.
Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant want to make rent hikes illegal for homes with severe health and safety defects that make the units unfit for human habitation.
Existing city law specifies conditions under which a unit can be declared uninhabitable, including damaged floors, sagging ceilings, broken windows, plumbing problems, hazardous electrical wiring, and infestation by insects, vermin or other pests.
State law prohibits cities from enacting rent regulations, but Licata and Sawant, at a news conference Wednesday, said their proposed legislation wouldn’t violate the ban.
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The council in 1998 approved a bill requiring landlords to give tenants 60 days’ notice about rent increases of 10 percent or more. Licata was a sponsor of that change, along with former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck.
The new proposal is similar, Licata said. Sawant said city attorneys have reviewed it and found it to be substantively legal.
Licata met with Mayor Ed Murray about the bill Wednesday. Murray has directed his staff to work with the council members to refine the proposal, he said.
“I fully support the concept of helping to protect tenants from landlords who do not take care of their properties. The practice of raising rents on substandard units is particularly unacceptable and something we must address,” the mayor said.
Knoll Lowney, the lawyer who drafted the legislation for the council members, called it “a simple and just law.” It would be triggered by tenant complaints.
“The ordinance doesn’t include any rent controls,” Lowney said. “The landlord can still adjust the rent based on market conditions. But the unit must be (made habitable) before the increase is implemented.”
Sawant called the legislation “a Carl Haglund law,” referring to the landlord of a rundown South Seattle building whom she and Licata have railed against.
Haglund bought the building over the summer, then told tenants their rents were going to increase dramatically despite serious problems with their apartments.
City inspectors recorded 225 housing- and building- code violations at the building a week ago.
The council earlier this month tightened a loophole in the city’s tenant-relocation assistance ordinance by approving penalties for landlords who push tenants out with rent increases in order to make renovations without paying relocation assistance.
Some landlords are unhappy with what Licata and Sawant are doing. Don Taylor, who owns a small apartment building in Seattle, said the council members are wrapping red tape around bad buildings, making it more difficult for them to be fixed up.
Haglund said what needs fixing is the city’s rental-inspection program. His building passed muster in July, he said.
“With city policy, what you want is to have the best housing you can have,” Taylor said. “More restrictions will mean more people stuck in substandard housing.”