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.” Continue reading

Court upholds Seattle’s pro-renter cap on move-in fees

Kshama Sawant-driven cap on move-in fees that can be charged to renters in Seattle has been upheld by a King County Superior Court judge.

The Seattle City Council approved legislation capping fees in fall 2016 but the new law has been tied up in court by a lawsuit brought be the pro-landlord Rental Housing Association of Washington group.

Under the measure from the District 3 representative, landlords can only charge tenants the first full month’s rent upon move-in and need to allow tenants to pay the security deposit, non-refundable move-in fees, and last month’s rent in installments.

The legislation was driven by research conducted by the 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.

It’s not clear what’s next for the cap law. The landlord advocacy group hasn’t said yet if it plans to appeal the ruling.

 

Renters dealt a blow as judge rules against Seattle’s ‘First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice’ law

One of the key elements in a legislative package of renter protections passed in Seattle in the summer of 2016 has been struck down in King County Superior Court.

The “first-in-time,” “First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice” legislation required landlords to, as it was described in the Seattle City Council’s press release that summer, “review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis” in order to prevent “housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority.”

Tuesday, a judge sided with a suit brought by the Rental Housing Association and a group of land owners agreeing that the law infringed on property and speech rights.

The City of Seattle is expected to appeal the ruling.

It will have more legal work on its hands defending other legislative efforts to give tenants greater protections in Seattle’s rough and tumble — and hugely profitable — rental market. A move-in fee cap championed by District 3 rep Kshama Sawant also faced nearly immediate legal challenge. And a recent decision to temporarily ban the use of rent bidding services in the city is also entangled in the “first-in-time” decision.

Rent bidding services not a Capitol Hill problem… yet

Like most things newfangled, the problem seems to be first hitting the young renters of Seattle’s University District. But judging by other cities in the West Coast archipelago of tech economy driven urban boomtowns, the early effects of the new revenue models are probably already rippling through Capitol Hill’s rental market.

Thursday morning, Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda’s Housing, Health, Energy, and Workers’ Rights Committee will be discussing a new trend threatening to add to the city’s affordability crisis: landlords using online services for “rent bidding.”

According to the session set to be presented Thursday, the ASUW Student Senate is calling for a moratorium on “Rent Bidding Services.” One report on the Rentberry service quoted the company’s founder taking credit for raising rents 5% above listing prices in the already ultra-expensive San Francisco and San Jose markets.

CHS could find only one Rentberry listing on Capitol Hill — a “cozy Capitol Hill home” listed at a starting rent of $7,500 per month. How does the service work? Here’s the marketing pitch:

Tired of secretive bids? Rentberry is the only platform that provides a transparent rental auction with the ability to submit custom offers. See the current highest proposal and the number of people who applied for the property, so you can make an informed decision.

What could the city council do about the new services? Check out Seattle’s plans to regulate the Airbnb-driven short-term rental market here. Meanwhile, this 12th Ave building stands alone thanks to a very special exception in the rules.

The full presentation document from Thursday’s planned briefing on rent bidding services is below. Continue reading

Capitol Hill renters group to send ‘housing justice’ Valentines to elected officials

The Capitol Hill Renters Initiative, the community group formed to help give renters a voice in the city’s political and development processes, wants to spread some love this Valentine’s Day to local elected officials and community organizations about “housing justice and related issues.”

Capitol Hill Renters Initiative – General Meeting

The group’s February meeting naturally falls on Valentine’s Day so it plans to spend a portion of the night eating chocolate and making Valentines using postcards from neighborhood artist — and renter — Myra Lara. Lara is also a member of the CHRI leadership committee.

If you’re interested in getting involved, next week’s meeting should be a fun way to check out the group. They’ll also be be talking safe consumption sites. Bring some ideas for creative poetry — “Mike O’Brien, how do i love thee? Let me count the ways…” — and a pen. You can also borrow some inspiration from CHS.

CHS Comics | Capitol Hill Valentines

 

Seattle City Council approves nation’s first Renters’ Commission

Council member Tim Burgess

Council member Tim Burgess

Applause followed the City Council’s unanimous approval of an ordinance creating a Seattle Renters’ Commission on Monday.

“This was truly a grassroots effort that started up on Capitol Hill and will now benefit the entire city of Seattle,” Council member and prime sponsor Tim Burgess said.

“We just want to give renters a formal voice here at City Hall,” he said. “… Renters need landlords and landlords need renters, so if this commission can help bridge that relationship then that will be a positive move for our city.” Continue reading

Seattle Renters’ Commission bill sees early support in City Hall debut

The proposed Seattle Renters’ Commission made its debut in the City Council’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee meeting last week. Early signs indicate good support for the proposed 15-member commission that aims to give renters in the city a voice on not only tenant rights and affordability but also related issues like transportation access and economic development.

“There’s a lot of issues that touch renters and they’re not often at the table,” said Sera Day, legislative assistant to council member Tim Burgess, prime sponsor of the ordinance.

“As rents continue rising, it’s critical that renters are given space to engage city government with a strong and organized voice,” Capitol Hill Community Council president Zachary DeWolf said Friday. “… This ordinance will create a platform for renters to get engaged in civic life and fully invest in their neighborhoods and ultimately our city of Seattle.”

Sierra Hansen, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in support of the commission.

“I think that this is an amazing effort among Capitol Hill residents that will benefit folks across Seattle,” Hansen said. Continue reading

Central District Tenant Rights Bootcamp

Trying to get repairs? Worried about losing your deposit? Confused about new Seattle tenant laws? Worried about eviction?

Tenant Rights Bootcamps are a neighborhood-by-neighborhood series teaching renters how to to assert their rights, find solutions to various issues, and make change in their community.

Tenants walk away from Bootcamps with a better understanding of their rights, current Seattle landlord/tenant laws, and resources to help in trying times. They will also have the opportunity to sit and talk with someone knowledgeable in WA State tenant law.

With Tenant Rights Bootcamps, renters don’t need to search for answers. We bring resources to the people.

Tenant Rights Bootcamps are a partnership between Be:Seattle Organizing and the Legal Action Center.

This Bootcamp is co-hosted by organizers from SAFE

More info at seattletenantbootcamps.org.

Capitol Hill renters might be getting slightly better deal in 2017 — but new commission is about more than rents

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.11.25 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.11.31 PMFriday morning, the Seattle City Council is taking its first steps toward forming a first of its kind commission to represent renters at City Hall. Formation of the Seattle Renters’ Commission comes as rents for the first time in ages appear to possibly be softening on Capitol Hill — but immediately lower rents aren’t necessarily the goal. The city is going to need political help widening the new apartment pipeline to keep new construction in motion and new apartments coming into the Seattle market.

“Rising rents are pushing residents out of the city, and that’s unacceptable,” Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien representing Northwest Seattle’s District 6 said. “Low-income renters are nearly twice as likely as homeowners to be displaced by gentrification. I believe that the Seattle Renters’ Commission will bring much needed perspective to our policy work about how we can grow equitably and inclusively.”

O’Brien is talking about lots of things — Source of Income Discrimination and Move In Fees legislation, enforcement of existing laws like the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, Rental Housing Registration and Inspection Program, the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, and the Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance — but he is also, of course talking about HALA. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Renter Initiative, Entre Hermanos holding ‘housing justice’ movie night

Last summer, CHS reported on progress in easing the construction of backyard rentals to help combat Seattle’s affordability crisis. The progress has since ground to a halt. Wednesday, the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative and Latino LGBTQ nonprofit Entre Hermanos are teaming up for a movie night and discussion at 12th Ave’s Northwest Film Forum to sort out how the groups “can take action on backyard cottages and other housing justice campaigns” —

Housing Justice Movie Night-Quinceañera

This event was created in response to the recent decision by the Seattle hearing examiner to indefinitely delay an ordinance that would make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages (legally called Detached Accessory Dwelling Units or DADUs) like the home the main characters share in the movie. The hearing examiner decision came after a legal challenge by the Queen Anne Community Council, a neighborhood group that hired attorneys in order to delay these low cost housing options from coming to their neighborhood.

You can register for a “ticket” to the event here. The screening is free but organizers are asking for a $3 donation to help cover costs.

CHS wrote here last month on the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative’s goals for 2017.