Queen Anne renters showed up last Tuesday night to learn what rights they have as tenants in Seattle and how to push back when they’re violated.

Nonprofit Be:Seattle partnered with District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Share The Cities, Queen Anne for Everyone and the Tenants Union of Washington to put on a Tenant Rights Boot Camp at the Queen Anne Community Center on Dec. 17.

“We work with the homeless community and with the renter community in Seattle,” said Be:Seattle executive director Devin Silvernail. “The boot camps are kind of our homelessness prevention work that we do. So, we teach people their rights around their rental situation.”

Most renters in Seattle don’t know their rights, but Be:Seattle has tried to combat that by putting on 49 boot camps since 2017, he said.

Share the Cities founder Laura Loe said her organization partnered with Be:Seattle to put on the Tenant Rights Boot Camp in Queen Anne because Share the Cities wants to be another resource to help them fight back against less-than-ideal renting circumstances. She is also trying to start a group that is specific to Queen Anne.

“I am trying to start a group called Queen Anne for Everyone, separate from Share the Cities, for Queen Anne renters and allies of renters,” she said.

Seattle City Council District 7 Councilmember-elect Andrew Lewis attended the boot camp. He will be one of only two renters sitting on the council come January.

“Seattle City Council District 7 is majority renter,” Lewis said. “It’s important for renters and tenants to know what their rights are. Anything that empowers the people of District 7 to be more discerning and knowledgeable tenants is a good thing to be doing.”

Silvernail said one of the most important things for people to take away from the boot camp is that they should understand the entire text of their leases, and that every communication between tenants and landlords should be in writing.

There are two types of leases: fixed-term and month-to-month.

A fixed-term lease is set for a specific and finite amount of time, but may become month-to-month or renewed following the initial term. Those wanting a lease for a duration longer than one year must get the document notarized.

All month-to-month renters have to do to terminate their lease is give 20 days written notice to their landlords. With this kind of lease, rent can increase after a tenant is given 60 days notice. Those with a verbal lease are automatically month-to-month renters.

Landlords can only enforce rules in the lease.

Silvernail said another main topic that often helps tenants is to know what to expect from their landlords regarding repairs.

“How to deal with repair issues as well — that’s a huge thing that people will deal with as renters,” he said. “How to do a repair request, when to follow up on a repair request… Know the timelines around repairs.”

Landlords are given 24 hours to repair something that is hazardous to a tenant’s health, like not having hot water or heat; 72 hours if it’s a major appliance like a stove or fridge that doesn’t work; and then 10 days for anything else.

If a landlord does not comply with their set timelines, tenants can call code enforcement at 206-684-5700.

Most people come to the boot camps because they are trying to get information before they have a problem with their housing, Silvernail said. They attend because they are trying to find out things like what they actually owe for a deposit, or how to affect change in tenant law.

“In the city of Seattle, we have a cap on move-in fees, which means that a landlord can’t charge a tenant more than the equivalent of a first month’s rent for all move-in costs,” Silvernail said. “So that’s a deposit and any kind of associated fees. They can still pay last month’s rent. That doesn’t count as part of that.”

He said tenants can also request to pay their deposits and rental fees through a payment plan with their landlords.

“Your landlord doesn’t have to offer that to you, but if you ask them for it, they have to oblige,” he said.

Up until about 10 or 15 years ago, most rights for tenants were written by landlords, Silvernail said, so it’s important for renters to band together in unions and advocacy groups to effect positive change.

It was the efforts of tenants working together that caused the three-day pay or vacate rule to be extended to 14 days. And before advocacy, landlords only had to give month-to-month renters 30-days notice for a rent increase.

“Coming together and working together is the way we can get better tenant rights,” Silvernail said. “The tenants union, for example, has been doing that for 40 years, and the tenants rights movement has only grown in Seattle in the last decade. So the more that we work together, the more that we can accomplish together.”

For privacy, landlords must give 48 hours written notice to inspect the property and 24 hours written notice to show the property.

I think it’s important, because if you don’t know your rights, you don’t know if you’re in a bad situation,” he said. “If you don’t know your rights, you don’t know when you’re messing up. If you don’t know your rights, you don’t know when you are being taken advantage of.”