UP #382 – A Proposal for New Tenant Protection Legislation

Early yesterday, on October 14, 2015, I joined Councilmember Sawant in announcing our new proposal for protecting tenants facing rent increases. Our current law (Seattle Municipal Code 7.24.030) was a result of legislation passed 17 years ago, which I sponsored. It contains a range of protections for tenants.

It requires landlords to give a minimum of sixty days’ notice prior to a rent increase of 10% or more, prohibits landlords from forcing tenants to sign leases longer than one month, and makes imposing penalties for terminating a lease illegal.

However, it left a gap that this new legislation will close. Councilmember Sawant and I are proposing an ordinance to “prohibit the imposition of rent increases while [a] rental property suffers from any defect that makes it unfit for human habitation.”

The impetus for proposing this legislation came from the case of the Charles Apartments, where we appeared last week with tenants protesting their living conditions and the exorbitant increases they were receiving without having their problems addressed. The legislation would determine if a unit is unfit for human habitation by applying the definitions already supplied in our municipal code.

I consider this an even-handed approach. It allows a landlord who refuses the demand to withhold a rent increase for a unit suffering from severe defects to request that the Director of the City’s Department of Planning and Development investigate the allegations and make a determination.

This would place the burden of proof on the landlord to provide safe and healthy living conditions for their tenants.

Below is a description of the proposed legislation.

An ordinance proposing to “prohibit the imposition of rent increases while [a] rental property suffers from any defect that makes it unfit for human habitation”:

“C. Any rental agreement or renewal of a rental agreement for a residential rental unit in the City of Seattle entered into after the effective date of the ordinance adding this subsection C shall include or shall be deemed to include a provision prohibiting the implementation of any rent increase when the unit suffers from any defect(s) enumerated in SMC 22.208.010 (Conditions for declaring a building or premises unfit for human habitation or other use). In response to any notice of rent increase, a tenant may provide landlord with a written list of any defect(s) enumerated in SMC 22.208.010 at the rental unit, and thereafter the landlord must remedy such defects before implementing the rent increase. If the landlord disagrees with the demand and wishes to implement the rent increase without remedying the alleged defects, the landlord may request that the Director investigate the allegations pursuant to SMC 22.208.030 and make a determination pursuant to SMC 22.208.040, which is thereafter appealable pursuant to SMC 22.208.050 and SMC 22.208.060.”

If this legislation is not addressed during our current budget process, I believe the Council should deal with it at the end of November or by early December before the Council takes its winter holiday recess.