New Rules for Landlords Help Protect Tenants

On July 10, new legislation became effective that prohibits rent increases on units that fail to meet minimum rental housing standards and gives Seattle DCI enforcement authority over “prohibited acts by owners.”

The ordinance is housed in the Prohibited acts by owners section of Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 22.206.180.

Properties That Do Not Meet Basic Standards

Landlords are now prohibited from raising rents on units that do not 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 gets a rent increase notice and believes the increase cannot take effect due to conditions in their unit believed to fail the RRIO checklist under the new rules, the tenant must inform the landlord in writing (e-mail is allowed). After receiving notice 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.

New Rent Increase Notice Requirements

Landlords who wish to raise housing costs, defined as rent plus periodic monthly fees, must now include language in the written notice describing how tenants may reach Seattle DCI for information on the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. Example language will be available at www.seattle.gov/rentinginseattle.

It is now a “prohibited act” to fail to give proper notice of a rent increase. In Seattle, if the increase to the tenant’s housing costs is less than 10 percent of the amount charged over the preceding 12 months, landlords must give tenants the notice at least 30 days before the effective date of the increase. If the increase is for 10 percent or more of the last year’s housing costs, the landlord must give tenants the notice of increase 60 days in advance. Seattle DCI can now enforce this longstanding Seattle requirement.

Illegal Evictions and Entries

 With the support of the Seattle Police Department, Seattle DCI will now enforce prohibitions against illegally evicting tenants by locking them out of their units, discontinuing utility services furnished by the landlord, removing fixtures or fuses, or otherwise attempting to remove or exclude a tenant except pursuant to the legal process.

The department will also act on illegal entries into a tenant’s housing unit. Unless an emergency exists, tenants must be given at least 2 days’ notice of intent to enter at a reasonable time with the tenant’s consent for inspections and repairs. The landlord must give at least 1 day notice for the purpose of showing the unit to prospective buyers or tenants.

Retaliation and Organizing

Seattle DCI may now enforce prohibited acts related to retaliation. Landlords are prohibited from evicting, raising rent, reducing services or otherwise taking punitive action against tenants in response to a good faith complaint made to Seattle DCI, the Seattle Police Department, or the courts. Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants that attempt to assert the rights granted to them by law. Additionally, landlords cannot prohibit tenants and their agents from engaging in certain efforts related to tenant organization.

More Information

Landlords and renters can find more information about the new rules and other requirements for renting in Seattle at www.seattle.gov/rentinginseattle or by calling Seattle DCI at (206) 615-0808.

New Tenant Protections Effective July 10

On July 10, the Carl Haglund Law becomes effective. The new legislation prohibits Seattle landlords from raising rent on units that fail to meet minimum rental housing standards.

Last October, residents at Carl Haglund’s 6511 Rainier Avenue South 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.