The Seattle City Council Monday approved a bill that would prohibit landlords from raising the rent on an apartment with health or safety violations.
Landlords will not be able to raise the rent on units that don’t meet basic maintenance standards under legislation passed unanimously Monday by the Seattle City Council.
Tenant-rights advocates cheered the bill’s approval and said it helped balance the power between renters and landlords at a time of skyrocketing housing costs and record homelessness in the city.
“Unfortunately, many people are living in substandard and unsafe housing,” said Roi-Martin Brown, a member of Washington Community Action Network (CAN), which advocated for the rule change.
Brown cited numerous poor living conditions facing tenants, including broken plumbing and heating systems, broken windows, holes in walls, unsafe railings and insect and rodent infestations.
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At the same time, he said, some tenants are facing rent increases of hundreds of dollars.
“Unethical landlords should not be able to exploit tenants this way,” Brown said.
About 70 CAN supporters and Socialist Alternative Party members wore red T-shirts at the council meeting and raised signs saying “Make Seattle Affordable For All.”
No landlords testified against the bill, but they have previously argued that it violates state prohibitions against local jurisdictions adopting rent regulations and have threatened to sue the city.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who introduced the legislation with former Councilmember Nick Licata, said the bill was only one tool to help renters and still requires renters to challenge landlords over rent increases.
She said she plans to introduce additional legislation this summer that would cap move-in expenses, noting that first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit can exceed $4,000, an amount many working people can’t afford.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, a former aide to Licata, said the rationale the city heard from landlords is they need to raise rents to make the needed repairs. Herbold called that unfair to tenants. She also noted that current city law gives tenants the right to a refund if a living unit doesn’t meet city maintenance standards.
She said the city should strengthen enforcement of that requirement.
Several tenant advocates who testified before the council referred to the legislation as the “Carl Haglund bill.” Haglund bought an apartment building in South Seattle last summer then told tenants their rents were going up dramatically despite serious problems with the units including mold, broken appliances and cockroaches.
City inspectors recorded 225 housing and building code violations at the building in October.
Haglund said his building passed the city’s rental-inspection program in July and that he was unaware of the building’s poor condition when he purchased it.