New Deposit and Move-in Fee Limits and Payment Plans

The City of Seattle has made important changes to the City’s Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance.  Future rental agreements in the City of Seattle must follow these requirements. This is a summary of the key changes.

Security Deposit, Pet Deposit, and Move-in Fee Limits – New limits on deposits and fees that can be charged at the beginning of a new rental agreement include:

  • Security deposit plus move-in fees cannot exceed the amount of the first full month’s rent
  • Pet deposits are limited to 25% of the amount of first full month’s rent
  • Non-refundable move-in fees are limited to only tenant screening reports, criminal background checks, credit reports, and cleaning fees.
  • Total non-refundable move-in fees are limited to 10% of the first full month’s rent


Payment Plans Required –Landlords must allow an installment plan to pay a security deposit, a pet deposit, move-in fees, and last month’s rent.  The payment plan must be structured as follows, unless otherwise agreed to by the landlord and tenant

  • For rental agreements of 6 months or longer—6 consecutive and equal payments
  • For agreements between 30 days and 6 months—4 consecutive and equal payments
  • For month-to-month agreements—2 equal installments; except for pet deposits, which can be paid in 3 equal monthly installments.


Security Deposit Returns –  The requirements for security deposit returns have not changed.  However, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections may now investigate and take action if a landlord improperly withholds a deposit return or in other cases where the City’s rental agreement regulations are not followed.  Important points in the existing security deposit return requirements are:

  • The tenant and landlord must have signed a move-in condition checklist.
  • Security deposits must be returned within 21 days of the tenant leaving the property.
  • The reasons for withholding any portion of a deposit return must be itemized in writing and provided to the former tenant within 21 days of tenant vacating the property.


The new deposit and move-in fee limits and payment plan requirements do not apply to tenants in an owner-occupied single family dwelling, including attached accessory dwelling units.

Click here to read the new law.  Updated detailed information will soon be available at 607 on the website will contain most of the detailed information.  Information for Tenants on the website is also being updated to reflect the new law.  A new version of Information for Tenants must be provided to each tenant household with each new rental agreement.

The changes are effective January 15, 2017.  The City recognizes that these changes are significant and have come quickly.  As we carry out the new law, we will follow our usual approach of offering assistance and information to rental property owners, working with property owners to voluntarily correct the situation if the rules are not followed, and only taking enforcement action when voluntary corrections are not made.  To increase awareness of the new requirements we are funding a landlord training and education project in 2017 and significantly increasing City outreach efforts.

As always, SDCI staff are available answer questions regarding any of the City’s rental housing ordinances.  Please call (206) 615-0808 and ask for assistance.

Reminder: New Environmental (SEPA) Review Requirements

Environmental review thresholds under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) will change on Monday, November 16, 2015,. The change will affect the following Urban Centers and Villages: Northgate, South Lake Union, North Rainier, Rainier Beach and North Beacon Hill.

The new thresholds will generally be 20 dwelling units and 12,000 square feet for non-residential uses in most zones in these areas. Projects that exceed these thresholds will be required to undergo SEPA environmental review. Specific changes by zone are included in Ordinance 124885. Enter the ordinance number in the “Ordinance No.” search box.

State rules required Seattle to update its citywide residential growth projections this year in its Comprehensive Plan. This was completed in October, but other updates will not be completed until 2016. We anticipate that SEPA thresholds for specific urban centers and villages will be restored to pre-existing, higher levels in 2016 following adoption of the Seattle 2035 update to the Comprehensive Plan.

For more information, view our FAQ or contact Gordon Clowers at (206) 684-8375 or

Recent Changes to When Design Review Is Required

City Council recently developed and approved two separate Land Use Code amendments that will trigger Design Review for some development proposals that were previously exempt from Design Review or Streamlined Design Review.

  • The first amendment was added as part of the Lowrise Multifamily code update. This amendment modifies Table A of SMC 23.41.004, and requires multifamily developments of more than 8 units in the Lowrise 2 zone to go through the Design Review process. This change became effective on August 9th, 2015 (Ordinance 124803).
  • The second amendment affects new developments containing 3 or more dwelling units and/or at least 2,000 square feet of nonresidential space. Developments that meet those criteria may be subject to full Design Review if they abut a “qualifying lot” or lots. A qualifying lot is: (1) an abutting lot(s) for which  a concurrent MUP or building permit application is submitted to DPD for review, or is subject of an issued permit, or has a project under construction but does not yet have the Certificate of Occupancy or final inspection and approval; and (2) the number of units or nonresidential space on the qualifying lot, when added together with the three or more units or 2,000 or more square feet of nonresidential space for the new development proposal, would exceed the Design Review thresholds in Table A or B to Section 23.41.004. Projects on the abutting lots that are currently under review or have an issued permit are not subject to Design Review if they were accepted as a complete application, and don’t, on their own, exceed the Design Review threshold. Design Review would apply only to the subject lot, which is the later application that brings the combined total of units and/or square footage over the design review threshold. For reference, the complete language of this new code provision is provided below (Ordinance 124843).

Seattle Municipal Code section 23.41.004.A.8

  1. Except for development with the boundaries of a Master Planned Community, design review pursuant to Section 23.41.014 is required for a development proposal if the proposal is (a) for three or more attached or detached dwelling units or 2,000 square feet or more of non-residential gross floor area; and (b) on a lot that is abutting one or more qualifying lots and the combined size of development proposals on the subject lot and abutting qualifying lot or lots exceeds thresholds in Table A or Table B to Section 23.41.004. For purposes of the preceding sentence, a “qualifying lot” is a lot for which, on the day a complete application is submitted for a development proposal on the subject lot: (a) a complete Master Use Permit or building permit application for a development proposal that does not exceed thresholds in Table A or B to Section 23.41.004 is or has been submitted; and (b) a certificate of occupancy for the development has not been issued or, for a project where no certificate of occupancy is required, the final inspection pursuant to any issued building permit has not been completed. If complete applications for development proposals are submitted for the subject lot and qualifying lot on the same day, design review is required for both development proposals.

The legislation will be effective on September 21, 2015.

DPD recommends that permit applicants with development proposals in multifamily and commercial zones should review this new rule to determine whether it will affect their project. DPD also advises applicants to be aware of new or planned development proposals on properties that abut their future development. Applicants may learn the status of potential development on abutting parcels by using the “Find Status and Activity” tool on the DPD webpage at However, given the complexity of DPD’s intake and application process for development, DPD cannot guarantee that this information will not evolve. Applicants are advised that the information on DPD’s webpage represents a snapshot in time, and they cannot completely rely on the accuracy of this information since we cannot predict whether applications will be accepted on the day of a scheduled intake appointment.  Standard reasons such as an incomplete application, delay in payment of application fees, appointment cancellations, etc. all can effect whether applications are accepted by DPD.

DPD will determine whether design review is potentially required when a new permit application is screened. DPD will try to advise applicants, but will not be able to guarantee whether design review is required until a permit application is screened at the intake appointment.

Links to these ordinances can be found below:

LOWRISE Ordinance 124803

OMNIBUS Ordinance 124843

Proposed Permanent Micro-Housing Regulations

On September 2 the City Council introduced new legislation (Council Bill 118201) to clarify permanent regulation of micro-housing, congregate residences, and similar forms of development. The City Council’s proposal reflects input from three stakeholder working group meetings held during the summer of 2014. After the new regulations are voted on by Council, all future developments will have to meet the new rules. We are looking forward to having new regulations in place to help clarify standards for developers, neighborhood groups, and the Department alike. Key elements of the proposed new regulations include:

  • Micro-housing will be regulated as individual Small Efficiency Dwelling Units.  A new code subsection will specify allowable configurations of interior spaces, so that groupings of sleeping rooms with a shared kitchen within a single dwelling unit (a previous model for micro-housing) will no longer be allowed.  Instead, developers may construct Small Efficiency Dwelling Units, which are complete dwelling units containing a full kitchen/kitchenette and will be required to have an average size of 220 square feet among the dwelling units in a building.
  • Private, non-special needs congregate residences will only be allowed in some places. Congregate residences that are not owned by or directly affiliated with a non-profit housing provider, college, or university, or that are not licensed to provide support services, will only be allowed in urban villages and urban centers in these zones:
    • Neighborhood Commercial 3 (NC3)
    • Midrise multi-family (MR)
    • Highrise multi-family (HR)
    • Seattle Mixed (SM)
    • Downtown zones
  • Special needs congregate residences will continue to be allowed in all zones that allow multi-family development. Congregate residences that are owned by or directly affiliated with a non-profit housing provider, college, or university, or that are licensed to provide support services, will continue to be allowed in all zones that allow multi-family development including:
    • Lowrise zones (LR1, LR2, LR3)
    • Neighborhood Commercial 1 and 2 zones (NC1 and NC2)


The City Council Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee (PLUS) will next discuss the topic on September 5, 2014, with a possible PLUS Committee vote on September 16. The full City Council would then vote on the PLUS Committee’s recommendation. Potential meetings for full City Council action are September 22 or 29. There is typically a 30-day period between when City Council votes on legislation and when new regulations become effective.