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To protect against ‘shockingly unconscionable’ rent increases, Sawant calls for COVID-19 rent freeze — UPDATE: Call for rent and mortgage moratorium

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant says she wants to build on the victory of her push for a ban on residential evictions during the COVID-19 crisis to protect Seattle renters and tenants across the state from “shockingly unconscionable” rent increases.

In a letter this week to Gov. Jay Inslee, Sawant calls for “a statewide rent freeze through the end of the year.”

“As vulnerable renters in Seattle and Washington state struggle to cope with the COVID19 pandemic, many are starting to receive notices for rent increases from their corporate landlords,” Sawant writes. “Constituents have reported this both to my office and to the Tenants Union of Washington State. This is shockingly unconscionable.”

Sawant says rents should remain frozen longer “if the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis continues in 2021.”

The full letter is below.

Earlier this month, Mayor Jenny Durkan included orders restricting residential and commercial evictions in her response to the outbreak. In her letter, Sawant says “an organized movement of renters” forced the 60-day moratorium and a 30-day statewide restriction.

In her letter, Sawant does not specifically identify buildings or management companies increasing rents. CHS has collected information on a few examples of increases but renters have also told us about rents that have remained unchanged and two buildings where rent has been decreased to help tenants during COVID-19. At another, the national management company has opted to hold a drawing to award rent breaks to three “lucky” tenants.

One tenant contacted CHS about an increase — about 4% per month starting on June 1st” — in a Capitol Hill Housing building. “Capitol Hill Housing periodically increases rents at our apartment buildings. Often these increases do not fully cover the increasing costs of operating our buildings,” a spokesperson tells CHS. “We’re very sensitive to the financial challenges many of our residents are facing, particularly at this time. We have a long-standing rental assistance fund that residents in need can apply to.”

This week, the affordable housing provider says it is launching “a COVID-19 Resilience Fund that will raise vital funds to support our residents and commercial tenants.”

UPDATE 1:20 PM: Capitol Hill Housing tells CHS it is backing off any planned increases. “We will not be increasing rents for the remainder of the year at CHH buildings,” a spokesperson said. “At the same time, we have been working to raising funds for a COVID-19 resilience fund. Today we’ve raised over $250,000 and are looking to swiftly deploy support for those in need.”

Meanwhile, a $2 trillion federal relief package is moving forward in Washington D.C. and was approved by Congress Friday.

In her letter, Sawant also calls on Inslee to suspend all rent, mortgage, and utility payments for “as long as the pandemic lasts.”

UPDATE: This won’t help its residential tenants, but Vulcan Real Estate joined other large developers and the City of Seattle in announcing a break for its commercial tenants:

Vulcan Real Estate on Friday announced that it would not collect rent from its small business retail and nonprofit tenants for the month of April 2020 in response to the challenges they are facing given the COVID-19 pandemic. “As a long-standing Seattle-based developer, we are part of the community that is navigating this extraordinarily difficult time,” said Ada M. Healey, chief real estate officer of Vulcan Inc. “We hope this action will help these small businesses weather the next phase of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.”

We’ll see if breaks for residential tenants are coming.

UPDATE 2:30 PM: South Seattle council rep Tammy Morales will introduce a resolution Monday calling for a moratorium on commercial and residential rent and mortgage payments, “providing necessary relief to thousands of Seattle residents and business owners struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis.”

Morales has heard from many constituents who are concerned about their economic futures should renters, homeowners, property owners, and business owners not see a rent and mortgage moratorium soon. “Since this crisis started, nearly every one of my constituents that I’ve heard from has asked for this. They’re saying the City’s existing 60-day moratorium on evictions doesn’t go far enough to ensure their financial future and ability to remain housed within the city. We already have a public health crisis on our hands, we can’t add to it by creating a housing and homelessness crisis,” Morales said. “The City, state and federal government must do everything it can to ensure Seattleites aren’t heading from a public health emergency into a depression accruing massive amounts of debt. We must stop this economic freefall now, rather than kicking this can down the road. Otherwise we’ll see an increase in evictions, foreclosures, and permanent loss of important cultural spaces as soon as the immediate crisis is over, causing another wave of economic crises for families across the city.”

Morales’s resolution will go before the Full City Council on Monday during its regularly-scheduled 2 PM meeting.


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31 thoughts on “To protect against ‘shockingly unconscionable’ rent increases, Sawant calls for COVID-19 rent freeze — UPDATE: Call for rent and mortgage moratorium

  1. Okay sounds good Kshama. Can we see your next proposal be a freeze on expenses including property taxes, maintenance, City fees for whatever it is you all do over there, etc.? Rent increases also cover property management staff’s compensation and benefits increases too. So put that in your blunt and smoke it.

    • If people can no longer afford rent and we’re instead faced with a huge vacancy rate, management staff compensation and benefits increases will be the least of landlord’s worries.

      There’s a good chance that landlords will not just be facing rent freezes but will need to start decreasing rent.

      We are no longer business as usual. Drastic measures are going to need to happen to ensure the transition out of this pandemic is as painless as possible.

      Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it.

      • okay smart ass. Who is going to cover the landlords costs/losses? Answer: No one.

        Last I checked, being a landlord is an investment, which means that you are (1) not guaranteed continuous profit and (2) are subject to rules and regulations of applicable jurisdictions, which can change at any time, for any reason..

        By becoming a landlord, they should have very well understood that it’s not going to be all peaches and warm, fuzzy profits all the time. Granted, the chance of today’s scenario happening was pretty close to 0%, but here we are.

        The needs of the many outweigh the profits of the few, not to mention it would be financial suicide for a landlord to raise rents right now or anytime in the coming months.

        We’re all going to be struggling for awhile, landlords are no exception.

      • Sawant is taking advantage of the health crisis to push her pet project (rent control).
        I support a temporary moratorium on rent increases, but certainly not a permanent one, as Sawant would like. I wish she would just shut up for awhile, but that’s probably too much to hope for.

    • There is an existing protection for property tax increases (albeit a weird and wonky one)
      https://dor.wa.gov/get-form-or-publication/publications-subject/tax-topics/property-tax-how-one-percent-property-tax-levy-limit-works

      Renters, on the other hand, have basically no protections. Landlords can increase the rent by any amount at their whims, and tenants’ only option is to leave their home and try their luck in a market readily manipulated by big developers through absurd vacancy rates (or in the case of the new Cal Anderson housing, pull a fast one and turn promised housing into an AirBnB).

      The notion that landlords need to **increase** rent during a global pandemic, recession, and likely eminent crash in the housing market is absurd, a clear case of price gouging that you don’t need ‘marxist ideology’ to recognize.

      • Savant knows fully well there will be no “shockingly large” rent increases. Landlords know it too. She just can’t stop grandstanding and pandering. It’s what she does.

      • As that link says, individual property tax increases are not limited to one percent. For example, I own a small six unit building on Capitol Hill. Property taxes on that building are increasing this year from $17,600 to $23,600, a thirty percent increase. In order to make up that amount I would have to increase eash tenant’s rent by $835 per year, or about $70 per month. This is property tax increase is in addition to the very sharp tax increases over the last five years. Yes, the building’s value has increased dramatically and that benefits me, of course. But you must recognize such dramatic increases in annual costs will have an effect on rents.

        That said, I have no intention of increasing rents during this crisis. Many commercial and residential landlords are being very responsive to their tenants needs right now. None want to lose existing tenants because people are remaining in place so filling vacant units or commercial spaces would be very challenging. And as pointed out below, noone is talking about delaying or suspending property tax payments. They need to be paid April 30, come hell, high water, or pandemic.

      • +1 on Glenn.

        Also, I’d really like to see the evidence of “unconscionable” rent increases.

        I’ve already proactively offered a rent cut to unemployed tenants.

        (a mere 3 unit building owner)

    • Oh for heaven’s sake, MarxismSux. We’ve just been through a decade in which Seattle-area rents nearly doubled while secular inflation ran less than 2% annually (so low the Fed has publicly worried about a deflationary spiral). If you can’t just cool it a while and count your blessings, then sell your building(s) to someone who’s at least a little more civic-minded and get out of the landlord business. Seriously.

      • Maybe he’s just upset that laissez-faire Capitalism neither prevented the pandemic crisis nor will solve the pandemic crisis.

    • the city council should impose a moritorium on all payments and costs during the crisis. everything must be free. the city should pay each citizen $1M so each can pay all their debts and still be rich, and the the tenants can then buy their apartments (oh wait, the apartments will be free — cool!), and have enough left over to all buy a Tesla to help with climate change (oh wait, those will be free, too – cool!). with the leftover money all citizens can purchase music streaming (…free!), which will play Kumbaya 24 hours a day, alternating with readings from Das Kapital.
      ..

  2. Still now word on how city will help with property tax :

    Good afternoon,

    Thank you for contacting King County Treasury. State and Local authorities recognize the impact that Covid-19 is having on taxpayers. At this point, the April 30 deadline remains. If alternatives, or some other options to mitigate the impact of property taxes becomes available in the coming weeks, we will let you know via the King County Treasury website http://www.kingcounty.gov/propertytax.

  3. I’m a single mother that lives in kirkland and I don’t have money for rent for april I am backed up in March as well any resources can help I dont want to get evicted and go back to the shelter with my daughter I’m scared to go outside I have a low immune systems my diabetes is pretty bad please help

  4. Still trying to figure out how the city council can put a moratorium on mortgage payments. They have tons of control over rental regulations but almost none on mortgages…

  5. Y’all complaining, but being a landlord isn’t even a job! YOU don’t make anything, nor do you provide any services that a person owning their own property wouldn’t just take care of themselves at their own cost, if you didn’t own it.

    As Fairly Obvious so obviously stated, “being a landlord is an investment”.

    I can understand how you may not like paying for property tax increases on a property that you may very well might not even live in. However, if you can’t afford to pay–maybe you need to just admit you made a bad investment, count your losses, and GET A REAL JOB. One that actually will provide some use value to our decimated economy! Rent freeze and mortgage freeze NOW.

    • OK, then by your own logic landlords should realize, oh yeah, rental housing is a really bad investment and get out of it. That means converting apartments into condos or if it’s a home, selling it to someone else. Therefore, no rental housing available for anyone which in your mind is ok because landlords don’t provide anything of value to anyone anyway.

      Not everyone can actively work into their retirement years and they either rely on their savings to live on or become a burden on society by relying on the government. Some people put their life savings from their working years into a rental home in order to have a retirement. If you make it so people can’t live off their own savings that way then they will surely put it somewhere else where they can.

      By the way, I am not a Seattle landlord so I have no skin in the game but am just an observer of this nonsense.

  6. Do the same for Keystone properties NW they are refusing to repair damages occurring in their apartments even though everyone has reached out they’ve done nothing

  7. As a friend recently put it: owning housing you rent out is an investment, and much like the current state of the stock market, investments sometimes LOSE money. If you cannot afford to lose money, then sell your properties and put your money in federally insured savings accounts. Profiting off of housing is not a right.

  8. For those who claim that owning property is not work, fair enough. I am sure you are ok with no income for anyone not working. Such as those on pensions, social security and disability benefits. No work, no money since you did not earn it by twisted logic.

    Many landlords’ properties are an investment where they put their savings. Many pensions and 491k plans invest in real estate where rents are the proceeds that pay to the pension and 401ks for retired people. Including Union members.

    There is no cure for stupid.

  9. Maybe people should consider investing in areas other than real estate. Considering the industry’s tendency to generate huge speculation bubbles, smarter investments could be made.

    Workers get pensions and social security for jobs that they PREVIOUSLY worked at. It’s a retroactive payment for services rendered. The point that they are collecting money while not actively working is completely asinine. A landlord never worked for the money they get from rent.

    Optimally, all people should have access to money even if they’re not working…but it definitively should not be based on whether or not they own private property. DUH

    Landlords do nothing, and are a drain on society. Rent is theft at its core.

    And I’m pretty sure the cure for stupid is reading. I think I read that somewhere…

    • My point is that many pensioners are landlords and many landlords are pensioners. In this case their property is the source of their pensions. Few inherited it. Let’s say one bought a house in Seattle and moves to another city and rents, while renting out their Seattle home. Are they both required to let someone live in their Seattle home for free and get free housing in their new city? Did they not come by their house through honest work? Does this change the minute they rent it out? I can’t believe I am even having this conversation? I think your brain is theft as well, not obtained or used honestly by work. Give it back.

      • Being a landlord isn’t a job, it’s an investment. A pension is different than the rent accrued from an investment property, because the pension’s payout is guaranteed based on how much time was put into the job…the investment isn’t guaranteed shit. That’s why any fiduciary with some sense would diversify a pension portfolio and not just invest in one industry, say, real estate.

        As soon as the new purchased house is rented out, it becomes an investment. If you can’t afford that investment, only pay for the house you currently live it.

        Collecting rent and calling it your “pension”, does not make it a real pension. You are not guaranteed any earnings, just like an investment in stocks. Housing was always just the most consistently stable market we had (until 2008) and thus was a good vehicle for investment.

        Anything else…?

    • Most companies don’t offer a pension anymore so most try to build some savings in a 401k or an IRA during their working years.

      If nobody puts their savings into rental houses because that would make them bad people then there would be no houses for rent. Are you ok with that? You must be.

      You must own your place because if you rented then you would be enabling a landlord which you abhor. If you do rent, then STOP renting and buy your own place instead.

  10. Is there any news on this passing? I just got an increase /60 day vacate notice from Invitation homes out of Bellevue Washington. It’s bad enough all the stress we as a family are already going through with this pandemic, laid off, furloughed, no school for children and adults going to college, following stay at home order, going to store for supplies twice a month. Hoping we don’t get sick, now we have to look for affordable place to live and hope other landlords will allow us to see the home.

  11. Most companies don’t offer a pension anymore so most try to build some savings in a 401k or an IRA during their working years.

    If nobody puts their savings into rental houses because that would make them bad people then there would be no houses for rent. Are you ok with that? You must be.

    You must own your place because if you rented then you would be enabling a landlord which you abhor. If you do rent, then STOP renting and buy your own place instead.

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