Seattle landlords will soon have to provide six months’ notice of rent increases and, in some cases, pay tenants who move after a significant rent hike.
The Seattle City Council approved two bills Monday, the latest in a series of new landlord-tenant regulations including bans on some evictions and the right to an attorney for low-income tenants facing eviction.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant sponsored the proposals, saying they will help “to mitigate the harm that is going to be experienced by renters because of skyrocketing rents.”
Landlords criticized the proposals, arguing they could push small-scale operators to sell their rentals.
The council approved a bill requiring 180 days’ notice of rent increases with a 7-1 vote. Landlords are currently required to give 60 days’ notice for rent increases.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen voted no, saying the bill should exempt landlords with a small number of properties. Councilmember Debora Juarez was absent.
The relocation assistance bill passed unanimously.
That bill will require landlords to pay equal to three months of rent for low-income tenants who depart after rent increases of 10% or more.
During public comment Monday, most speakers spoke in favor of the new laws.
“I’ve moved eight times in 10 years and this is because landlords keep raising my rent a crazy, exorbitant amount,” said Heather Steiner. “Please support renters.”
Landlords argued the bills amounted to rent control.
“Each of these bills is excessive in every way,” said landlord MariLyn Yim. “I’m not Goodman and Essex,” Yim said, referring to large real estate firms. “They’re not here … I am a community member.”
After a brief reprieve during the pandemic, Seattle tenants are once again seeing their rents go up.
For tenants signing new leases, Seattle rents this month are up 12% from the same time last year and have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, according to Apartment List. For tenants staying in their homes, rent hikes prohibited for months because of a statewide eviction moratorium are once again allowed.
As rents were dropping, some landlords offered deals such as a month of free rent or lower rates to attract tenants. For some renters, those benefits quickly vanished.
Capitol Hill renter Ryan Kluge said he received notice over the weekend that his one bedroom apartment’s $1,095 rent will increase to $1,895 if he renews his lease this fall — a 73% increase.
Given that rents were down when he moved in last winter, Kluge expected some kind of rent increase this year but was stunned by the amount. “I was anticipating maybe 20% to 30% at the most,” he said in an interview.
“It almost feels like landlords are trying to get revenge right now,” Kluge said.
Kluge said six months’ notice of the rent hike would have allowed him more time to save for moving costs and move-in charges. For now, he worries about finding a new rental “because it’s not just this place,” he said. “It’s every single place realizing they can start charging far more than they have been.”
Landlord advocates argue property owners need the flexibility to raise rents when their expenses go up.
“These bills do nothing to address our housing shortage and are just the latest in a string of bad ideas that have made housing more expensive over the last seven years,” the Rental Housing Association of Washington and the Washington Multifamily Housing Association said in a joint statement Monday evening.
The notice rule appears to be among the strictest in the country. The relocation assistance bill is similar to an existing Seattle program offering assistance for low-income tenants displaced by renovations. However, that cost is split between the city and landlord while the new assistance would be entirely paid by the landlord.
Portland has a relocation assistance program in place for rent increases of 10% or more in one year. Landlords there have sued.
Council members on Monday debated whether to limit which tenants could receive the new form of relocation assistance.
In a committee meeting last week, council members narrowed Sawant’s original proposal to tenants making 80% of the area’s median income or less, about $65,000 for a single person. Sawant on Monday proposed an amendment shifting the program back to covering all tenants.
Sawant argued the limit was unnecessary. “There is a means test built into the life circumstances of being displaced by a rent increase because it’s going to be working people and low-income people and people who are financially vulnerable who are going to be facing the displacement problem,” she said.
Pedersen, who supported the income limit, said the new program “is a big change from what the existing law is. I think having it tailored to lower-income households would be helpful for it to be sustainable.”
Councilmember Andrew Lewis said the limit will help the new law withstand potential lawsuits.
With a 5-3 vote, council members rejected Sawant’s amendment, meaning the legislation will apply only to renters below the income threshold.
The bill requiring more notice for rent increases will take effect a month after the mayor signs it. The relocation-assistance bill takes effect in July.
Daniel Beekman contributed reporting.