Under the measure from District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, landlords could only charge tenants the first full month’s rent upon move-in and would need to allow tenants to pay the security deposit, non-refundable move-in fees, and last month’s rent in installments. According to an example provided by Sawant, a tenant moving into an $1,800 a month unit today could pay $5,600 to sign the lease. Under her proposal, the same tenant would only have to pay $2,400 to move-in as other upfront costs would be spread out over six months.
The Energy and Environment committee passed the bill on to the full council, which is expected to vote on the measure in October.
In July, Washington Community Action Network, an advocacy organization working on housing justice, conducted a survey study on Seattle’s housing crisis. Researchers found almost 90% of respondents said that the biggest barrier to moving into more affordable housing was the prohibitively expensive up-front fees a landlord can charge a new tenant.
The findings have been held up by Sawant as proof that move-in fees are a serious barrier to housing affordability.
Moving costs can present a barrier to obtaining housing, particularly for renters with limited finances. Limiting the amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit may help reduce this barrier. Allowing a tenant to pay the move-in expenses in installments means that a tenant does not have to save the equivalent of three to four months’ rent prior to obtaining housing.
The Rental Housing Association, which represents rental property owners, opposes the measure. In a recent letter to City Council, the group warned the measure could put the rental housing market in serious risk.
Move‐in fees are the only means, outside of monthly rent, for independent landlords to cover their risk. In fact, the ability to charge move‐in fees, which are overwhelmingly refundable, allows independent landlords to keep monthly rents lower. This is a benefit to tenants.