Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposed legislation that would cap residential move-in fees to no more than the cost of one month’s rent.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Thursday proposed legislation that would put a cap on the amount of money landlords charge incoming renters.
The ordinance would limit move-in fees — including a security deposit and any nonrefundable, one-time payments — to no more than the cost of one month’s rent.
Sawant’s legislation also would require landlords to allow renters to pay their move-in fees in installments rather than immediately and in full. Landlords asking for last month’s rent up front would likewise be required to accept that sum in installments.
The council member said her proposal is aimed at reducing costs for Seattle renters during a time in which many of them are struggling to make ends meet.
“Seattle renters are facing a serious crisis. In May, one-bedroom apartment rentals rose 11 percent, the highest increase in the nation,” Sawant said in a statement, referring to a report by the rental-search website Abodo. “We need to reduce all barriers faced by renters. The cost of moving into a rental unit is first on that list.”
The Abodo report said the price for an average one-bedroom apartment in Seattle rose to $1,906 in May from $1,722 in April. The company’s most recent report said the price for an average one-bedroom in Seattle fell 9 percent from June to July.
The National Apartment List Rent Report for July said the price for the median one-bedroom in Seattle is $1,730, up 0.9 percent from June and 6.5 percent since last July.
Sawant unveiled her proposed legislation in conjunction with the release of a report by the Washington Community Action Network consumer-advocacy organization.
The report, called Seattle’s Renting Crisis, includes results from a self-selecting survey of 303 renters. About 95 percent of them rated housing in the city as very unaffordable, with black renters giving lower ratings than any other group, and 87 percent of them identifying move-in fees as a barrier to finding a new home.
When asked to describe their perceptions of housing affordability in Seattle, about 26 of the survey’s respondents used the words “stress” or “anxiety,” and a majority of respondents identified mold as a problem in their rental, according to the report.
Council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien will support Sawant’s proposed ordinance, they said Thursday. But Washington’s Rental Housing Association, a trade group for landlords, will not.
Sean Martin, the group’s external affairs director, said Sawant’s cap on move-in fees could push landlords to tighten up other qualification measures, such as the amount of money a renter must earn or their credit score.
Martin said the payment-plan requirement could lead to renters breaking their leases more frequently. Some landlords banned from charging full deposits up front would likely mitigate financial risk in other ways, such as raising rents on tenants opting to pay their deposits in installments, he said.
Besides capping move-in fees and requiring landlords to offer payment plans, the proposed ordinance would limit screening-report fees to the actual cost of obtaining the screening report.