On July 10, new legislation becomes effective that prohibits Seattle landlords from raising rent on units that fail to meet minimum rental housing standards.
Last October, residents in a Rainier Valley apartment building, with the support of the Tenants Union, complained to Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (Seattle DCI) about violations in their units after getting notice of exorbitant rent increases, in some cases as much as a 100 percent.
Upon inspection, the building was found to have 225 violations of the Housing and Building Maintenance Code. Outgoing Council Member Nick Licata and Council Member Kshama Sawant mobilized to coauthor proposed legislation, tying unit conditions to rent increases. Mayor Murray rendered full support for increased tenant protections in line with his publication, Housing Seattle: A Roadmap to an Affordable and Livable City, the product of key recommendations from the Housing Affordability Livability Agenda (HALA) committee. A collaborative effort between City Council staff, the Mayor’s Office, and Seattle DCI produced Ordinance 125054 which unanimously passed on June 6.
The ordinance is housed in the Prohibited acts by owners section of Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 22.206.180 (which will be updated after July 10).
How It Works
Landlords are prevented from raising rents on units if they don’t meet minimum standards listed on the Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) checklist. The Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance requires all owners of rental housing units in the city of Seattle to register with Seattle DCI. The RRIO checklist identifies the most important, minimum, rental standards required in all rental units.
If a tenant believes their rent increase is not allowed under the new rules, the tenant must inform the landlord in writing (e-mail is allowed), after receiving notice of the rent increase, of any conditions that would fail the RRIO checklist. Tenants may then contact Seattle DCI through the general complaint line at (206) 615-0808. Both renters and owners can request an inspection. Seattle DCI will inspect the unit and determine whether the rent increase should be deferred until the landlord makes repairs. If Seattle DCI inspects after a rent increase becomes effective and finds conditions that fail the checklist, the landlord will be required to provide the tenant a refund or rent credit of the difference until the condition is amended.
Other Key Legislation Changes
In addition to this important new legislation, there are other enhancements to SMC 22.206.180:
- It will be a violation if a landlord fails to serve proper written notice of a housing cost increase. (Housing costs include rent and any monthly or periodic fee paid to the landlord, such as storage or parking fees.) For increases of less than 10 percent in a 12 month period, advance notice of 30 days is required. For increases of 10 percent or more, advance notice of 60 days is required. All advance notice must coincide with the end of a monthly rental period.
- Violations such as illegal lock-outs, unlawful entry, and retaliation against tenants for filing a complaint in good faith are now enforceable by Seattle DCI, with the support of the Seattle Police Department.
- A tenant’s private right of action is increased from one thousand dollars ($1,000) to three thousand dollars ($3,000) in addition to any fines and penalties assessed for violations by Seattle DCI.
Seattle’s increasingly challenging rental market with sky-rocketing rates and not enough supply to meet demand has put a lot of pressure on renters. The City recognizes the importance of affordable, safe housing where people who work in Seattle can live in Seattle. Increased tenant protections that confront the worst cases of substandard housing and bad landlord practices go a long way to help.
Any renter seeking information or help with their tenancy should call Seattle DCI at (206) 615-0808.