Mayor Murray, Councilmember Sawant unveil tenant protection bill

Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Kshama Sawant unveiled a proposal today strengthening protections for vulnerable renters living in unsafe or substandard housing. The measure prohibits landlords from raising rents on homes that are in violation of existing maintenance and safety codes, and allows Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to take action against landlords for retaliating against tenants that report unsafe living conditions or fail to provide proper notice of rent increases.

“The practice of raising rents on substandard homes is unacceptable and we must take steps to protect vulnerable renters from displacement and unsafe living conditions,” said Mayor Murray. “This is a race and social justice issue that disproportionality impacts communities of color. We’ve seen landlords let homes fall into disrepair or raise rents to displace and redevelop the property. If Seattle is to become more equitable, we must ensure that rental housing is safe and remains affordable for residents.”

The tenant protection bill is a recommendation from the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). Studies have shown that more than half of Seattle’s occupied housing units are rentals. After reports surfaced last fall of landlords pushing out low-income and immigrant tenants, Councilmember Sawant and then Councilmember Nick Licata called for the City to step in and ban such practices.

“Tenants at 6511 Rainier Ave. S. organized their building into the Tenant’s Union of Washington to stop the abuse of their landlord,” Councilmember Sawant said. “They called demonstrations to expose the deplorable conditions, and this legislation shows that tenants can win their rights when they organize and fight back.”

Highlights of the bill include:

  1. Prohibit landlords from increasing the rents charged for units that do not meet basic maintenance standards.
  1. Enhance protections for tenants who experience retaliation or other prohibited landlord-led actions.
  1. Transfer primary City responsibility for enforcing against prohibited acts by landlords and tenants from the Seattle Police Department to the
  1. Allow SDCI to enforce a City requirement that a must provide at least 60 days’ notice before applying a rent increase of 10 percent or more.

“I’m happy to see Mayor Murray and Councilmember Sawant introducing legislation to better protect tenants,” said Sahra Farah, Executive Director of Somali Community Services of Seattle. “Too often, members of the immigrant and refugee community are taken advantage of because they do not know their rights and are forced out of their homes. This proposal will give tenants protection from rent hikes and retaliation from their landlords when they report unsafe living conditions in their homes.”

The Council is expected to consider the proposal this spring.