A big rent increase can be a hard punch to take. Now a suburb north of Seattle is trying to soften the blow for some tenants.
Kenmore will require landlords to provide longer notice for some rent hikes while also capping move-in and late-rent fees. Real estate interests questioned Monday’s moves by the City Council, while proponents said they were needed to help cash-strapped tenants get by.
Positioned between Seattle and the Eastside, the city has seen its housing market come under pressure as costs have risen across the region. Other suburbs are considering similar steps as families grapple with rent increases and inflation while trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Kenmore’s new laws, the combination of move-in fees and security deposits will be limited to the equivalent of one month’s rent, and tenants will have the right to pay in installments (six monthly installments for tenants with leases lasting at least six months).
Late fees will be limited to 1.5% of one month’s rent. Landlords will be required to provide 120 days’ notice for rent hikes above 3% and 180 days’ notice for hikes above 10%.
There are some differences, however. For example, the required notice for rent increases is 60 days statewide, 120 days in unincorporated King County for increases over 3% and 180 days in Seattle.
Proponents said rent increases and moving costs can push lower-income tenants into debt or homelessness. Finding a new place to live and coming up with enough money to move can take quite a while, especially when proximity to jobs and child care matter.
“This would give people time to actually work out how to do that,” Kenmore resident Monique Gallant said during public comments in Monday’s meeting.
Opponents like the Seattle King County Realtors said the changes, to the extent that they drive up expenses for landlords, could result in higher rents and fewer housing options.
“This is a business, not a hobby,” Deb Wingert, who with her husband rents out half the Kenmore duplex where they live, said in an interview Tuesday. “The money has to come from somewhere.”
Monday’s night vote was 5-2, with the tenant protections supported by Mayor Nigel Herbig, Deputy Mayor Melanie O’Cain and Councilmembers Corina Pfeil, Angela Kugler and Debra Srebnik. Councilmembers Joe Marshall and David Baker voted against the changes after seeking unsuccessfully to exempt landlords with fewer than four housing units.
“Small landlords can be in trouble and on the edge, as well,” said Marshall, who disclosed that he owns two rentals with his siblings.
In an interview Tuesday, Herbig countered, “Renters shouldn’t lose rights based on how many properties a landlord owns.”
Pfeil, who has described her own challenges making rent as a tenant in Kenmore, described Monday’s vote as “a really good start.” Later this year, the council will discuss other potential changes, including a relocation assistance requirement for economic evictions.