New rules that would prohibit landlords from acting like slumlords by jacking up rents in poorly maintained buildings while also protecting tenants from surprise rent increases will be considered by the Seattle City Council.
The legislation sparked last year by District 3 rep Kshama Sawant and now retired City Council member Nick Licata and refined by the Ed Murray administration will be taken up by the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee Wednesday morning.
The legislation includes six new elements including restricting landlords from raising rents in properties that don’t meet required standards and, maybe even more importantly, transferring enforcement from police to the newly formed Department of Construction and Inspections. The rules would also require landlords provide at least 60-day notice on rent increases of 10% or more:
- Prohibiting landlords from increasing the rents charged for dwelling units that do not meet basic maintenance standards.
- Clarifying and enhancing protections for tenants who experience retaliation for submitting complaints and other prohibited landlord-led actions.
- Transferring primary City responsibility for enforcing against prohibited acts by landlords and tenants from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI).
- Enabling SDCI to take enforcement action against landlords that do not provide at least 60 days’ notice before applying a rent increase of 10% or more (existing SMC requirement) by making such conduct a prohibited act under the SMC. Violations of this law are currently considered civil matters between landlords and tenants.
- Adding a definition of “Housing costs” to the Housing Code.
- Simplifying the penalty structure for violations of the Housing Code.
The legislation will also tackle the process by which tenants can report any improper activity:
SDCI’s expanded role will include keeping track of violations. “With the new authority, SDCI would monitor the number of complaints from renters, the resolution of the complaints, and trends over time,” city officials write.
Last October, Sawant and Licata called for new rules to prohibit rent hikes on dilapidated properties. “The city has a responsibility to make every legal avenue possible to defend tenants’ rights,” Sawant said last year. The proposal came as a response to the controversy surrounding a Columbia City apartment complex, where rents were raised by the property’s new landlord on tenants who were living with cockroaches, mold, fault appliances, and other substandard conditions.
The rules, if passed, could help to eliminate “economic evictions.” Tenants cited this Capitol Hill building as an example of landlords jacking up rents while allowing maintenance and repairs to lapse. Tenants who were renting month-to-month were faced with nearly $500 a month rent increases, one resident told CHS. When they moved out, he said, the building owner began renovations of the units. “The sanitation of the entire building is awful. Nails in the hallway, jumper cables, dirt every where,” the tenant told CHS. “They’re finding every way to make it as uncomfortable as possible without saying you cant rent here.” The owner of the 109-year-old building objected to the claims.
“This proposed legislation seeks to prevent residential displacement and create stronger legal protection for renters who are subject to living in unsafe or uninhabitable rental housing or experience other prohibited landlord-led actions,” Mayor Ed Murray wrote about the legislation as his office send the final version to City Council.
The bill is sponsored by Sawant and is her first legislation this year outside the Energy and Environment committee she chairs. She has also sponsored three resolutions so far in 2016.
WED, 9:30AM: Council discuss Carl Haglund Law, my bill to stop slumlords raising rents in units w/ code violations https://t.co/tiijPVqlMR
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) May 17, 2016