Seattle City Council approves a pair of tenant protection measures

Tenant advocates scored a big win Monday after the Seattle City Council passed two measures that will require area landlords to give six months’ notice before raising rent and — in some situations — pay tenants who move because of the increased cost.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant sponsored both proposals, which were passed at the council’s regular meeting Monday night.

“Today’s victories will assistance tens of thousands of renters in Seattle, who are facing skyrocketing rent increases from profit-hungry corporate landlords and the venture capitalists and big edges who are fueling a speculative bubble,” Sawant said in a news release.

The first bill — CB 119585 — requires landlords to give 180 days’ written notice before raising rent. They’re currently required to provide 60 days’ notice. The bill passed 7-1, with Councilmember Alex Pedersen casting the lone dissenting vote. Councilmember Debora Juarez was absent from the meeting. 

The second bill — CB 120173 — requires landlords to pay the equivalent of three months’ rent to low-income tenants who decide to move after being notified that their rent will increase by 10% or more. The bill is intended to offset costs associated with moving into a new space, such as first-and-last-month’s rent and a security place. It passed unanimously.

The Seattle Municipal Code defines a “low-income household” as one whose income does not go beyond 80% of the city’s median income, which in this case — based on 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau  — method a household whose combined income is less than $73,810. Sawant’s original bill did not include this caveat. It was additional via an amendment sponsored by Councilmember Pedersen.

The two measures are the latest in a wave of new landlord-tenant regulations adopted by the city.

Earlier this year, the council banned most evictions for students and children, their legal guardians, and educators during the 2021-22 school year. It also forced landlords to offer new leases to tenants before their existing leases expire, and mandated that low-income tenants facing eviction be provided legal counsel.

Opponents to such measures argue that small-extent landlords — facing a slew of complicated and costly regulations — will be forced to sell their similarities, leaving Seattle’s rental market in the hands of major ownership groups. They say an absence of “mom-and-pop” landlords will create a shortage of more personal and affordable housing options for renters.  

It’s no surprise that the council has adopted an especially fierce pro-tenant perspective this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Seattle renters hard.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest Housing Pulse Survey shows that more than 85,000 tenants are not caught up on rent, with at the minimum 25,000 being more than five months behind on payments. More than 70,000 people reported feeling “not at all confident” that they’d be able to make next month’s rent, and approximately 4,100 tenants said it’s “very likely” that they’ll be evicted in the next two months.  

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