The Seattle City Council on Monday passed a resolution to ask the state to end its ban on cities regulating rents.

Share story

The Seattle City Council passed a resolution Monday directing city lobbyists in Olympia to ask the state Legislature for the authority to enact new laws related to rents.

But what the council approved by a vote of 8-1 wasn’t the much-discussed resolution proposed earlier this year by Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant, who have argued it may be appropriate for Seattle to adopt some form of rent control.

Their resolution, which earned a split vote last week in the council’s housing committee, was headed for a full council vote on Oct. 5. That bill will now fade away.

What the council endorsed Monday instead was a brand-new piece of legislation introduced in a last-minute maneuver by Council President Tim Burgess.

The Burgess resolution, like the Licata-Sawant legislation, endorses repeal or modification of a 1981 state law that bans cities from regulating rents. But unlike the Licata-Sawant resolution, its preamble makes no mention of Seattle’s potentially adopting a rent-stabilization ordinance like those New York City, San Francisco and other cities have used.

“Cities should be given as many tools as possible to create rent-restricted units,” Burgess said Monday, stressing that his resolution “does not take a position on rent control.”

For months, Licata and Sawant have been rallying support for rent control or rent stabilization, to the alarm of Seattle’s real-estate industry. They held a town-hall meeting in April and organized a debate in July that drew close to 1,000 spectators.

While the approved resolution should have much the same practical effect as its precursor, it also may allow Burgess to claim some credit as he campaigns for re-election against former Tenants Union of Washington executive director Jon Grant.

Though Grant accused Burgess on Monday of watering down their proposal, Licata and Sawant each voted for the Burgess bill, calling it a victory for their cause. Councilmember John Okamoto was the lone dissenter.

“I thank Council President Burgess for joining Councilmember Sawant and myself,” Licata said. “I recognize the value of penmanship and I don’t particularly care who handles the pen as long as the point gets across.”

The half-Republican Legislature may not agree to repeal Washington’s rent-control ban anytime soon, noted Councilmember Tom Rassmussen. But Sawant, attributing Monday’s vote to “our grass-roots movement,” decried Seattle’s lack of affordable housing and urged supporters to set their sights on Olympia.

“This is happening now because our movement has brought pressure to bear,” she said, adding, “Unless we have a policy to rein in skyrocketing rents … by enacting rent control, we will not solve this crisis.”

The council on Monday also unanimously approved a pair of bills intended to help tenants.

The first will require owners of some rental buildings to provide 60 days’ notice to the city and the Seattle Housing Authority when intending to sell.

The second will require rental-property owners to provide tenants with 90 days’ notice for certain evictions — a longer period than currently mandated.