Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant is continuing her
political march against independent landlords as she prepares to push CB 118756 through her Energy and Environment Committtee meeting tomorrow at 2 pm - a proposal which would institute hard caps on rental
housing move-in fees and force landlords to provide payment plans for those
fees at the request of tenants.
WashingtonCAN! has the attention of Sawant, with this newest
proposal due in part to a July 2016 report published by the group which
advocates for increased protections for renters. Cited as a research study
indicating the need for caps on move-in fees, the report is actually based on
information collected by a methodology known as “snowball sampling.” Essentially, what this means is that Seattle Council is creating legislation using "data" based entirely on responses received from WashCAN!'s own members,
their members’ friends, and individuals who actively seek out their information
on social media.
Objectivity in creating rental housing regulations in
Seattle appears to be out the window for the foreseeable future if this type of
information is what public policy is based upon.
A September 13th hearing was the first opportunity for the public to digest this new proposal, and tomorrow (September 27th) is likely to see the legislation voted on and moved forward to full council for its consideration the following Monday, October 3rd.
That the proposal is based upon flawed reports and arguments
is enough of a reason for it to not move forward, but that is only one of a
lengthy list of concerns about unintended consequences for both tenants and
For independent landlords the issue is very simple. Deposits and fees are necessary as a means for mitigating
risk when renting housing. Move-in fees are the only means, outside of monthly
rent, for independent landlords to cover their risk. If move-in fees are
artificially restrained, rent is the only relief valve.
That risk is exacerbated by a provision to force Independent
landlords to offer move-in fee payment plans at the request of the tenant. The
payment plans - essentially 4 to 6-month term, 0% interest loans – would allow
tenants to skip out on rental agreements without any serious financial
repercussion after just a month or two.
Sawant and tenant advocates appear to be believe that capping
and spreading out the payment of move-in fees over a period of time will not
force landlords to take alternate measures to safeguard their property.
However, in the realm of unintended consequences, increased
rents and massively restrictive screening standards for renters are the likely
outcomes. In particular, this proposal paired with the recently adopted “First
in Time” ordinance essentially forces landlords to raise the bar so high that
only well-heeled renters are likely to see any benefits.
If there were one simple, short way to describe what will
happen should this legislation pass it appears to be “rents will go up, tenant
screening criteria and standards will go up, and housing opportunities for
those most in need of help will go down.” Without the ability to negotiate and
offer alternative terms to renters what choices do landlords have left?
RHAWA is urging Council to consider alternatives to placing
independent landlords at huge risk, causing rents to increase, and restricting
access to rental housing for underqualified renters. The simplest, most direct
way of assisting tenants at move-in is for the City consider allocating dollars
within the renewed housing levy to create a revolving fund for move-in fees, or
to consider increasing funding of the Landlord Liaison Project.