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New Seattle tenant protections would give renters earlier notification on sales, more time to make ends meet

Some residents at the Central District’s Chateau Apartments said they found about the building’s sale when organizers from Council member Kshama Sawant’s office showed up at their doors

Legislation to shift notification requirements for the sale of low-income housing will be on the agenda Thursday for a Seattle City Council committee while the mayor is rolling out changes she says will protect tenants from eviction and “help keep Seattle residents in their homes.”

The legislation, sponsored by citywide council member Teresa Mosqueda, would modify a 2015 measure that required owners of multifamily rental housing with five or more housing units — at least one of which rents affordably to a household at or below 80% area median income (AMI) — to provide written notice of the owner’s intent to sell the property to the city’s Office of Housing and the Seattle Housing Authority at least 60 days prior to being listed or advertised. This change looked to give these two bodies time to examine buying the property to keep its rental units affordable.

“In Seattle’s current real estate market, tenants and affordable housing providers often struggle to compete,” Mosqueda said in an emailed statement. “Many buyers come with cash in hand and buy up properties within days of being listed, and buildings are often sold without ever being listed at all—leaving few opportunities for lower-income buyers to get a foot in the door.”

“We need every tool to help level the playing field for tenants and non-profit organizations in Seattle to secure ownership of their buildings when they come up for sale, preserve affordability, and create more first time home ownership options to exercise greater self-determination in their housing.”

Just Cause expansion and new tenant protections legislation
Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council member Lisa Herbold have announced “a suite of measures as the City of Seattle’s next steps to safeguard tenants from eviction and help keep Seattle residents in their homes.”

The proposals would update the City of Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance to “harmonize the City’s regulations with amendments to the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (ESSB 5600)” while the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) is drafting legislation to further improve tenant protections, according to the announcement.

The updates will expand the city’s efforts to “act within our authority to protect Seattle’s renters and give clarity to landlords,” the mayor said including:

  • Extending the amount of time tenants are given to respond to a potential eviction by increasing the minimum response time to a notice to pay or vacate from three-days to 14 days;
  • Granting more advanced notification to tenants for any increase in rental costs by requiring at least 60 days’ notice for all rent increases;
  • Limiting the potential for eviction for non-payment of fees unrelated to the rental costs of a unit by harmonizing the definition of “rent” to match new state law;
  • Creating consistency with relocation assistance available to tenants who are forced to move as a result of emergency orders or code violations;
  • Expanding the eligibility for low-income tenants to receive emergency relocation assistance upfront; and,
  • Improving transactions and notices between landlords and tenants related to non-electronic payments of rent, reasonable notice for planned utility shut-offs, and the distribution of information about the availability of assistance via the Renting in Seattle website.

As a companion to the mayor’s legislation, Herbold announced that she will be advancing her legislation resulting from recommendations from the Seattle Women’s Commission’s Losing Home Report to:

  • Protect domestic violence victims from being held liable by their landlord for property damage caused by their abuser;
  • Address the financial impacts of tenant-initiated lease terminations; and
  • Address affordability barriers created by both lease limitations on roommates at the beginning of tenancy and family members not on leases, in the case of death of a leaseholder, at the end of tenancies.  

Low-income notification requirements
Mosqueda’s new proposal would change the minimum unit requirement to two, down from five, while preserving the statute that at least one of the units must be affordable for a household at 80% AMI, and increase the notice period from 60 to 90 days, according to a council memo.

Under the measure, which will be heard Thursday morning in the Housing, Health, Energy, and Workers’ Rights Committee, owners would also be required to “prominently post a notice in the building notifying tenants of the owner’s intent to sell the building so that tenants are informed of this impending action” 90 days prior to being listed or advertised as for sale, according to the memo.

“This ordinance will strengthen opportunities for tenants, community organizations, and non-profit affordable housing developers to purchase multifamily residential buildings when they come up for sale by requiring information about multifamily rental buildings going up for sale and resources for prospective purchasers to be posted visibly within buildings where tenants can see; creating more lead time before properties are listed,” Mosqueda said in the email.

Owners would also be prohibited from executing a purchase and sale agreement for the building until 90 days after the required notices have been issued.

In the case of an owner who is not actively selling their property but receives an offer to purchase that they expect to accept, the owner then must issue the required notices within two days of receiving the proposal.

Owners must sign a declaration, which would be submitted to the Office of Housing at the same time as the written notice, saying that they have complied with the requirements.

The penalty for failing to comply with the requirements would be increased to $2,000 from $500 under Mosqueda’s legislation.

Similar measures have been enacted in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. In the nation’s capital, a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) notice is delivered to a building’s current occupants if a developer wants to purchase the property, according to The Washington Post. When these notices are sent out, non-profit organizations that look to preserve affordable housing and support lower-income renters are notified by the city government.

Since the original 2015 legislation was enacted, Seattle’s Office of Housing has received nine such notices, all of which were for buildings owned by for-profit owners, as of late May. Seven of the nine have sold and, to the office’s knowledge, none have been sold to the Seattle Housing Authority or a non-profit housing developer.

The council memo submits that compliance with these provisions remains a challenge partly due to the fact that the Office of Housing does not have adequate staffing levels to proactively enforce it. The city suspects that the actual number of multifamily buildings subject to the current policy is “significantly higher” than the number of notices received.

One amendment to the new proposal requested by the Office of Housing would require the office to report to the council by the end of September with strategies to monitor and enforce the ordinance as well as the costs to implement it.

Another amendment would have the City Auditor evaluate multifamily building owners compliance with the requirements in August 2021 and report to the council by the end of December 2021.

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1 year ago

Mosqueda’s approach is guarenteed to diminish the availability of affordable housing. Landlords will be incented to raise rents to avoid fitting the definition of properties affected by the proposed modification. I have buildings that likely fit this definition, and would therefore be subject to her modifications. My reward for keeping rents low is a restraint on transferability, they make it harder to sell my property. The solution? Raise rents to market. Then I can sell my places unencumbered by this silly and unenforceable law. More idiocy from our overly intrusive, but well meaning city council.

1 year ago

There is not and never has been anything stopping OH, Tenant groups, nonprofits, or anybody else from making offers on multifamily properties. They could have been doing that all along. Many investors find their properties that way rather than waiting for a sign to be planted in front of the building so its nothing new.

This ordinance (which a property I own is now subject to) will do nothing but increase bureacracy and risk when I ultimately choose to sell. Since I am capable of planning ahead it won’t delay when I ultimately choose to list, I’ll just start jumping through hoops 90 days in advance. While would not be offended by any of above groups making an offer on the building I would be unlikely to accept it until the property were listed and I could see what market rate competitve offers were coming in.