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Seattle considers ‘slumlord’ law to restrict rent increases

Last year, Sawant cited the 1906-built Celeste Apartments as an example of why Seattle needs to pass strong tenant’s rights legislation to limit “slumlord” rent increases

Last year, Sawant cited the 1906-built Celeste Apartments as an example of why Seattle needs to pass strong tenant’s rights legislation to limit “slumlord” rent increases

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:

  1. Prohibiting landlords from increasing the rents charged for dwelling units that do not meet basic maintenance standards.
  2. Clarifying and enhancing protections for tenants who experience retaliation for submitting complaints and other prohibited landlord-led actions.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Adding a definition of “Housing costs” to the Housing Code.
  6. 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:

Presentation (8)

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.


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13 thoughts on “Seattle considers ‘slumlord’ law to restrict rent increases

  1. This is the sort of work that Sawant excels at and is one of the reasons I still tend to support her, even with her many flaws.

    Although I do wish she’d leave Carl Haglund out of it. It’s both petty and inaccurate. Yeah, he is a slumlord, but he’s far from being the only slumlord, and he’s certainly not the worst. That distinction goes to the Sisley’s.

    • Are the Sisley’s still around?! Most of (if not all) their Roosevelt neighborhood houses have been razed. And the hardware store they owned is shuttered. I would love to hear what they’re up to now…as well as an in depth history.
      One thing in their defense: They would rent to anyone and in a city with ever rising homelessness, this is of value.

  2. Sawant’s idea? It can’t be good, as a windbag she makes lots of ideas, but none of them come to fruition.

    I think if they go through with it, they should change the 60 days rent increase notice to read that they can only increase rent at renewal time, and must give 60 days notice of ANY rent increase.

  3. As a former resident of the bulling that was pushed out due to “economic eviction”, I really hope this passes.

    The Stratford Company needs to be shut down for what they do to their tenants. The recent fire that took place in the building was in my old unit. One of the remaining tenants (who lives upstairs with his wife and 2 kids) told me that the fire marshal believe it was caused by a cigarette from someone squatting in the apt. Meanwhile, my former neighbor also told me that they have now raised his rent to $2400 when it was only $900 a year ago. They now have no choice but to leave, and have no means to do so. They have been unable to save money (to move) due to the outrageous rent.

    The Stratford Company told me that our apts were under market value, yet they’ve had the same unit (#12) on craigslist for $1, 200 (sometimes $1,300) for over a month. No one wants to rent it. Why would they? The building is a hazard inside with garbage everywhere and burnt out lights.

    Something needs to be done in Seattle to help those of us who work our asses off to try to afford to live here, just to get screwed over my money hungry slumlords.

  4. Who pays for the inspection when requested by the tenant after notice of rent increased is given? I hope the city does, but I expect that cost will be borne by the landlord. Why cant the city pay for these inspections from general tax dollars? If we as a community value safe well maintained buildings, and we should, why dont we ensure these conditions through general taxation rather than making landlords pay to register their buildings, pay for the inspection, and pay for any “safety improvements” that need doing as a result of the inspection?
    I am all for ensuring that lousy landlords and those who prey on their tenants get a firm slap, but some of these proposals sweep to broadly.

    • Keep in mind when you say “general taxation” what it really means is “homeowners”. Now consider your question again, keeping in mind you’re suggesting homeowners pay for rental inspections via the seemingly endless, never-ending parade of property tax levies. Yup, same song again.

      Perhaps we should put some skin in the game for renters and landlords– a cost to do the inspection. If the the city finds violations, the landlord pays it. If nothing is found, the renter who requested the inspection pays for it. As it stands, why wouldn’t every renter facing a rent increase reflexively ask for an inspection just to delay the increase? What would they have to lose? If there’s really a problem, they shouldn’t worry about getting socked the inspection fee. And the landlord can also avoid the fee by curing the problem before the inspection.

  5. This is so clever from Sawant. She’s using this law as a trial balloon to go after the state law that prevents cities from regulating rents.

  6. Actually, the 60-day notice rule is already on the books. It’s shifting the enforcement of it that would be changed in by these revisions.

    • Right after I posted… deleted
      This posting has expired.
      (The title on the listings page will be removed in just a few minutes.)

  7. Washington state, Seattle in paticular, SERIOUSLY NEEDS a rent control law. I now live in a 10 unit apt. building that was once a motel built in 1962. My apt. Is so far below code it isn’t even funny. I DON’T even have a secure mailbox which I’m suppose to have. It is keyed, but the whole thing is so screwed up you can reach in a get my mail out. The owner just gave me another rent increase today. I live on a fixed income. SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE IN THIS CITY AND STATE!!!