Stymied on right to counsel legislation, Sawant opens up new fronts in fight for Seattle tenants rights over ‘just cause’ loopholes and credit checks

Sawant’s fight for renters has ramped up as Seattle expands its reopening — and as the recall effort against the councilmember awaits the state Supreme Court (Image: Kshama Solidarity Campaign)

With her tenant right-to-counsel legislation delayed at the Seattle City Council pending legal questions, Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced Tuesday a slew of new measures she hopes to pass to aid renters.

The centerpiece would look to strengthen the city’s just cause eviction ordinance, which requires landlords to give a reason for kicking a tenant out. Sawant argues that it has stopped a lot of evictions since its passage in 1980, but needs to be strengthened to further protect renters.

The loophole with the current law, Sawant says, is that landlords do not have to renew a six-month or year long lease, effectively evicting tenants. The current just-cause protections shield renters from no-cause evictions in the middle of their lease, but not when it expires.

“The legislation that my office wants to bring forward will contain no loopholes, no exceptions,” Sawant said during a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the council’s Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee. “Every tenant should be covered by just-cause protections.” Continue reading

Seattle adds more protections for renters including roommate rights, payment options

Though most of the Seattle City Council’s focus this week will be on pounding down additions — and a few subtractions? — to the mayor’s proposed $6.5 billion 2020 budget, Monday’s full council session finished up some key legislation to help Seattle renters.

Monday, the council passed five new bills increasing tenant rights and adding new requirements for landlords: Continue reading

Everything you always wanted to know about Sawant’s rent control bid but were afraid to ask

Sawant’s check boxes from 2017 could add another check in 2020 — though “TAX THE RICH” needs more work

Monday night, the Seattle City Council’s Renter’s Rights Committee, chaired by District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, will discuss draft legislation for rent control at City Hall during a public hearing. It’s a cornerstone moment in the final months of her term and in her race to retain her seat in November.

Sawant’s draft legislation follows her six-year-old call for rent control, a 2015 City Council resolution supporting the repeal of a State-wide rent control ban, plus an April letter from the Seattle’s Renters’ Commission urging the council and Mayor Jenny Durkan to pass a rent control ordinance in Seattle.

In the letter, the commission’s co-chairs noted that “the unpredictability and rate of rent increases in the past decade has caused a massive burden on renters which has led to both homelessness and displacement of Seattleites.”

So, what does rent control mean to Sawant?

It’s an umbrella term that can mean different things depending on specific rules and regulations. Overall, rent control, in some cases also called rent stabilization, means limiting rent increases. This can happen in various ways: it can be tied to inflation, the cap can apply only per tenancy or beyond the duration of a tenancy, and come with or without restrictions on evictions. Some include only buildings of a certain age and exempt new buildings.

Here are a few more questions about the whole thing — and as many answers as we have heading into Monday night’s session.

What does Sawant propose? Sawant’s office remained tight-lipped about the details of the draft legislation ahead of the committee meeting on Monday. What is clear: rent increases would be tied to inflation (around 2% or 3% per year), and the legislation will be “free of corporate loopholes.”  Continue reading

Study of Seattle evictions shows disproportionate impacts to women, Black renters

CHS found a woman’s possessions spread across a parking strip off 12th Ave after a 2017 eviction (Image: CHS)

A newly released report from the commission that has Mayor Jenny Durkan’s ear on women’s issues in the city digs into a year’s worth of data around evictions in Seattle and shows that women tenants make up more than 80% of cases in which a small amount of money costs a renter their home in Seattle. The study of 2017 eviction cases in the Seattle city limits also shows how unfair the process is to Black renters who are evicted at a rate 4.5 times what would be expected based on Seattle demographics. Meanwhile, more than 17% of the city’s 1,218 evictions came here in the neighborhoods of Seattle City Council District 3 — the third highest total in the study. By ZIP Code, one of the largest clusters of evictions in the city in 2017 came in the 98122 area covering the Central District.

“Eviction proceedings, also known as ‘unlawful detainers,’ are scheduled every day in the King County Superior Court, and while this eviction machine is unseen by the majority of the city, the results reverberate far outside the courthouse,” the report from the Seattle Women’s Commission and the Housing Justice Project begins. “While a month of unpaid rent might be an inconvenience for a landlord, an eviction can mean life or death for a tenant. National research shows eviction is one of the leading causes of homelessness.”

The groups held a press conference to announce the findings — and the study’s conclusions on what to do about the impact of evictions — Thursday morning at Seattle City Hall. The Housing Justice Project is a homelessness prevention program providing legal services for low-income tenants facing eviction while the Seattle Women’s Commission is an advisory body to the mayor, city council, and City Hall departments.

Gina Owens talked about life as a single mother renting in Seattle and what happened when she and her daughter were evicted. “One emergency, one missed paycheck” is the difference between a home and living in the streets in Seattle, she said.

A full copy of the report is below but here are some of the main findings: Continue reading

14+ things CHS heard at the Capitol Hill #rentersummit

Listening to the mayor talk about affordability? OK. Listening to your neighbors? Priceless (Image: CHS)

Listening to the mayor talk about affordability? OK. Listening to your neighbors? Priceless (Image: CHS)

Renting is not a stepping stone to homeownership for Sean Liming. The 49-year-old has been a renter on Capitol Hill for 22 years. “I think I’ll be a renter my whole life … I like being in that situation,” he said.

But there have been problems along the way. Liming said landlords have turned him away after finding out about his felony conviction. He is also one of the many renters on Capitol Hill to see his rent double overnight. Liming has never been involved with local politics, but when he heard about the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict organizing renters last year to push back against some of those very issues, Liming said he knew he wanted to get involved.

Around 100 people, many renters on Capitol Hill, gathered for the EcoDistrict’s Renter Summit Saturday afternoon at the Miller Community Center. The event was intended to be a launching point for a new renter power movement in the city. Many came as part of the EcoDistrict’s efforts to organize building ambassadors around Capitol Hill. Continue reading

Tenants claim ‘economic evictions’ by Capitol Hill building’s new owner

The Celeste was originally known The Allen (Image: King County)

The Celeste was originally known The Allen (Image: King County)

Residents of a 109-year-old Capitol Hill apartment building are planning to form a tenants association in response to a new owner they say has been unfairly raising rents in order to force people out so the building can be renovated unit by unit.

The issue has attracted the attention of Seattle City Council member and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant who cited the 1906-built Celeste Apartments as an example of why Seattle needs to pass strong tenant’s rights legislation that would limit “slumlord” rent increases.

According to county records, the Project S7 company owned by real estate developer George Webb purchased the 304 E Olive Pl building for $2.4 million in June.

Breckenridge Lanning, a tenant in the building since 2013, says that is when problems started. Continue reading

Random rental inspections now underway across Seattle

In March, some tenants at The Broadmoor on First Hill were fighting with the property owner over the condition of their building.

In March, some tenants at The Broadmoor on First Hill were fighting with the property owner over the condition of their building.

Housing inspectors have started making random visits to some 90,000 apartment units in Seattle as part of a law to ensure landlords are meeting basic housing safety standards.

Inspections under the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance went into effect late last month after the city council passed the program in 2013. The RRIO uses a 44-point checklist that covers issues such as leaks, exposed wires, and broken water heaters.

“No one in Seattle should be forced to live with a roof that leaks, a toilet that doesn’t flush, or an unreliable heating system,” said Mayor Ed Murray in a statement last month. “By registering rental properties and conducting random inspections, we can help ensure that these properties meet the basic standards that any of us would expect.”

So far, 45 buildings have been inspected out of 100 that have been notified, according to the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Historically, the city relied on renters to file complaints with the city against their landlords, but many renters didn’t know how to file complaints or felt intimated to not report violations.

Landlords will get at least 60 days notice before a property is inspected and renters must have at least two day’s notice before the inspection date. Inspections are carried out by either city inspectors or private inspectors trained by the city.

All properties with 10 or more units should have registered by September 30, 2014. All properties with 5-9 units should have registered for the program by March 31, 2015. The city has estimated that up to 10 percent of rental homes have moderate to severe problems.

Meanwhile, tenants rights and affordable housing is shaping up as a key issue in the race in the Council District 3 race. Expected frontrunner City Council member Kshama Sawant has made lifting the state ban on rent control her top issue in the campaign.