Renter legislation back before council next week

After being bumped back to committee last month, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s renter legislation capping move-in fees will go back before the full council for possible approval on Monday, Dec. 12.

The District 3 councilmember’s legislation would cap move-in fees for renters and allow for monthly installments to cover those costs in many cases.

In October the council sent the legislation back to Sawant’s energy and environment committee, where it passed 6-0 on Nov. 22, with several amendments tacked on.

Under the legislation, a landlord would only be able to charge a security deposit and nonrefundable move-in fees up to an amount equal to the first full month’s rent. A pet deposit would be limited to 25 percent of the first full month’s rent. Those fees and last month’s rent would be payable in installments.

The amendments to the legislation provides clarifying language in most cases, as well as how a landlord can agree to an alternative installment schedule with a tenant if such language does not exist in their standard lease document.

Another amendment clarifies that nonrefundable move-in fees and a security deposit do not include payment of a reservation fee.

Capitol Hill resident Dennis Saxman told the energy and environment committee on Nov. 22 he supports the legislation, but is concerned landlords will charge excessive reservation fees.

A number of landlords promised to do just that if the legislation passes, many upset the city will interfere with their protecting their investments.

Seattle City Council Central Staff legislative analyst Aly Pennucci told the committee last month the state allows for the collection of a reservation fee, but the amount can be later applied the cost of security deposits and first month’s rent.

Other landlords said they may sell off their properties if the legislation passes.

“The idea of more and more regulations on what I do and how I have to do it is going to completely turn me off,” said Robert Meyers, who rents out a single-family residence.

Sean Martin with the Rental Housing Association of Washington called the legislation an “embarrassment,” saying it will make housing less affordable for those that need it most.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington is not letting up on its fight to block the legislation, according to Sawant, who is calling for a support rally at Seattle City Hall ahead of the full council vote at 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12. This is a precaution being taken in light of a number of calls Sawant’s office has received from the RHA over the past few weeks, said Ted Verdone, Sawant’s legislative aide focused on policy analysis.

“We’ve gotten one or two phone calls a day,” he told the Capitol Hill Times, “and if we’ve received one or two phone calls a day, I imagine the other councilmembers have received one or two phone calls a day.”

Verdone said the asks from the RHA have ranged from a flat-out rejection of the legislation, to allowing certain exemptions, such as for landlords owning a certain number of properties. He said such an exemption would likely lead to property owners breaking up their holdings under a number of LLCs.

“From our point of view, there’s a couple concerns with this,” Verdone said of amending the legislation further. “The first is it’s just not needed, because the reality is the landlords are getting their money anyway. It’s just establishing a payment plan so renters can move in.”

As of press time, Verdone reported no amendments to the legislation had been introduced.