Rent control

Seattle City Council Passes Rent Control by Another Name. Is It Legal?

New bills passed earlier this week require landlords to give tenants 180 days' notice before raising rents and pay relocation expenses to low-income tenants who move in response to rent hikes.


The Seattle City Council might have found a clever way around Washington state's ban on local rent control policies. On Monday, it passed two bills that respectively require landlords to give generous notice to their tenants of any rent increases and to provide relocation expenses to low-income renters who do move in response to large rent hikes.

Current city and state law require landlords to give their tenants 60 days' notice of any rent increase. One bill passed by the council would increase that notification period to 180 days, likely the longest notification period in the country.

And if a low-income tenant decides to move in response to a rent increase of 10 percent or more, landlords will be obligated to provide them with "economic dislocation relocation assistance" equal to three months' rent, thanks to another bill passed by the council on Monday.

Both are the handiwork of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, who argues the twin bills are needed to protect tenants from a post-pandemic upswing in rents—and from capitalism more generally.

"Today's victories will benefit tens of thousands of renters in Seattle, who are facing skyrocketing rent increases from profit-hungry corporate landlords and the venture capitalists and big banks who are [fueling] a speculative bubble," said Sawant after the bills passed.

Landlords were less pleased with the bills' passage, arguing during public comment that they'd raise their costs of doing business and are, per the Seattle Times, tantamount to rent control.

That latter charge could open up the new bills to legal challenges.

Washington state law preempts municipal governments from enacting laws "which regulate the amount of rent to be charged" and instead reserves that power under the state government.

That law should preempt Seattle's 180-day notice requirement, says William Shadbolt, a board member with the Rental Housing Association of Washington's (RHAWA) Legal Defense Fund.

While the notification bill doesn't put a cap on rent increases, as rent control laws in Oregon and California do, it is limiting when a particular rent increase goes into effect. That is clearly a regulation on the "amount" being charged, he says.

The prior requirement that landlords give tenants 60 days' notice of rent increases was a standard set in state law, while the new 180-day notice requirement is unique to Seattle.

The relocation assistance bill could be vulnerable to a legal challenge as well.

Landlords in Portland, Oregon, sued their city government over a similar policy requiring landlords to pay relocation expenses to tenants who move in response to a 10 percent rent increase. They argued that this was clearly intended to deter landlords from raising rents beyond a certain level and thus banned by Oregon's preemption of local rent control laws.

That challenge was rejected at the county and appellate court levels. The Oregon Supreme Court held a hearing on the case earlier this year.

A recent Supreme Court decision striking down part of New York state's eviction moratorium could also pose a danger to Seattle's relocation assistance bill.

That decision, in the case Chrysafis v. Marks, invalidated a section of the moratorium allowing tenants to self-certify that they had suffered economic hardship, and thus were protected from eviction under the state law. That violated landlords' due process rights because it didn't give them an opportunity to contest tenants' self-declaration that they were protected by the moratorium, ruled the court.

Seattle's rent relocation assistance bill—which only covers tenants making up to 80 percent of area median income—likewise allows tenants to self-certify their income, and thus could be vulnerable to a similar legal challenge, says Shadbolt.

He says the RHAWA is currently reviewing the legislation to see if they'll file a lawsuit.

Sawant herself has described her bills as adding momentum for "a full renters' Bill of Rights, which includes citywide rent control with no corporate loopholes."

Both bills will now go to Mayor Jenny Durkan for her signature.

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  1. Will Seattle pay for economic dislocation relocation assistance if a business moves in response to increases in city taxes and fees?

    1. It makes sense. They clearly don't want them there, so why not pay them to leave?

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    2. Of course there will be an economically dislocated business assistance payment. Any business relocating will need to pay the city an assistance fee equal to three months lost taxes.

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  2. Both are the handiwork of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, who argues the twin bills are needed to protect tenants from a post-pandemic upswing in rents—and from capitalism more generally.

    And you watch, she won't get recalled.

    1. Now hold on. I think we have a pretty good libertarian argument for these policies. Let me see....

      If a landlord raises rent or evicts a renter, some of these renters will inevitably live with other people which increases the chance of being exposed to COVID. Therefore, I believe it is reasonable to say that the landlord directly exposed their renters to COVID either through the act of raising rent or eviction. This is obviously an act of aggression that the renter has a right to defend themselves against. The only thing I am not sure of right now is whether I should just shame and pressure these evil landlords or actually fully endorse government action. Tough call

      1. It's really just a reasonable way to keep people home.

      2. I hear the CDC is hiring.
        Also the IRS.

        1. Actually I am looking to get hired at Cato.

      3. "...a pretty good libertarian argument..."

        For values of Libertarian with which most of us are not familiar, perhaps.

  3. Both are the handiwork of Councilmember Kshama Idiot Sawant


  4. And if a low-income tenant decides to move in response to a rent increase of 10 percent or more, landlords will be obligated to provide them with "economic dislocation relocation assistance" equal to three months' rent

    And I bet those horrible evil potty head landlords will keep their increases to 9.9% and below, and not provide new rentals to low-income tenants.

    1. Probably 9.9% every six months.

      1. Two increases that total (or exceed) 10% within a 12 month period count as if it were one increase under their relocation expense law.

        And those horrible evil potty head landlords can't even withhold for money the tenant owes like back rent or damages from the "relocation assistance" they are required to pay.

        The inevitable result will be even less rental property available, especially for the poor. Housing costs will rise and gentrification will accelerate. Is Sawant truly that clueless? Or is this a sneaky scheme to get those ugly poor people to move somewhere else?

        1. another way to force them into condos or some thing thus again limiting the market to the lower paid but heck no one could have predicted those unseen consequences.

        2. Kshama is definitely that much of an Idiot Sawant.

        3. She's just doing what she's told.

        4. I’m not sure this passes muster with WA’s state constitution. Seattle tends to get slapped down regularly over this kind of Marxist garbage. The city council there really all belong in prison.

      2. My response: Every month I'm going to issue a new notice that rents are going up 9.9%. I may "change my mind" on those increases but at least now I have the option.

    2. Good catch. Of course, I was thinking they'll probably think twice about renting to low-income tenants in the first place. "Hm, do I want to rent to this low-income person? No, that's a hard pass thanks for playing...."

      1. They may not have a choice, if their apartments are on the ratty side of town. Rent low income, leave it vacant, or pour enough money into it to attract high income to a ratty part of town.

        1. Or more likely, sell it to someone who will turn the property into something other than housing.

          1. Yes, that is more likely. I had limited myself!

          2. This touches on the other thing I was thinking of. This kind of thing could end up benefiting the large corporate buyers as an unforeseen consequence. "Mom and pop" type landlords end up getting out or never even getting into a market like this in the first place. The large corporate buyers, who maybe factor fines, etc. into the cost of doing business, will just snap up all the properties in cities that have these kinds of laws.

            Of course, wouldn't it be interesting to discover the people who passed this had ties to such corporate buyers and stood to benefit in some way from this kind of thing. Hmmmm. Only speculating......

            1. I'm not sure that consequence is "unforeseen" thought the politicians who are invested in those corporations will certainly say so afterward.

      2. They don't have a choice. Seattle already passed a "first-in-time" law that requires landlords to rent to the first "qualified applicant".

        1. It’s for this reason that many landlords only rent to people they know. Nothing gets advertised, except at inflated prices to ensure selection of better tenants. Creates more housing shortages.

    3. Seattle just passed the first "Permanent Annual Rent Increase of 9.9%" Act in the US.

      1. Back in college, we used to have the annual spontaneous tuition increase riot.

        1. Hey, just like tailgate parties! Roast marshmallows on the fires of the mostly peaceful protests.......

      2. 9.99%. Why leave money on the table?

        1. With profits like that, landlords will be able to afford a new wardrobe to the point where they can be dressed to the nines.

    4. 3 months' rent to move?
      I don't know about Seattle, but for 3 months' rent in California I could move like 5 times.

  5. Is this legal? But earlier, TX Governor signs bill that is unconstitutional.

  6. Honestly hoping Mt Ranier does a Mt St Helens soon and that lahar makes it to puget sound. Sorry if that is harsh, but fucking socialists need something else to worry about for awhile instead of gaming the system to fuck over small businesses and landlords.

    1. Every dead socialist is a step in the right direction.

  7. This is evil. These people are mini-stalins in training

  8. Seems there's incentive to reduce one's income before moving so as to qualify for the relocation reimbursement.

  9. And I'm sure some of these people believe that this will have no effect on the future supply of rental housing.

  10. “ New bills passed earlier this week require landlords to give tenants 180 days' notice before raising rents and pay relocation expenses to low-income tenants who move in response to rent hikes.”

    Easy: make rent increases bigger each time and don’t rent to anyone whose income is low enough to qualify for moving expense reimbursement.

    No unintended consequences here. Nosiree.

    1. wait til they ban background checks and proof of income on rental applicants as discriminatory

      1. Seattle already banned criminal background checks for rental housing, in 2018.

  11. Also, just a little reminder, Seattle currently has an eviction ban in place, so I'm not sure which one is more illegaler.

    1. They also have a large “pro vaccination” landmark.

      1. ?!

        Are you referring to Seattle itself?

        Seattle Becomes First Major American City to Fully Vaccinate 70 Percent of Residents 12 and Older

        1. Space Needle

        2. Partial vaccination, not full two dose vaccinations.

          1. Office of the Mayor.

            SEATTLE (June 9, 2021) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan today announced that Seattle is the first major American city to fully vaccinate 70 percent of its residents 12 years-old and older. Seattle has surpassed the City of San Francisco which had been leading the country in vaccinations and the State of Vermont which is leading all states in vaccination rates. Seattle also exceeded Governor Inslee’s goal in vaccinating 70 percent of 16 and older residents and President Biden’s goal in vaccinating 70 percent of adults who are 18 or older. Currently, 78 percent of the Seattle population 12 years-old and older has begun the vaccination process, but has not yet completed the series, which is also one of the nation’s highest vaccinations rates.

            By the time you re-read this, all will have second doses and be on their way to their first of many boosters.

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  12. Well, maybe landlords should just cease renting and let all those poor renters buy their own homes. Nice to get a preview of what socialism will look like in America after the $3.5T bill passes.

    1. Absolutely. Anyone who is renting on the west coast (or east coast for that matter) is an idiot. And it's pretty risky to rent anywhere in between. When I retire I plan to move out of the city. If I can't sell my current place there's no way in hell I'm going to rent it. I'll let it rot first. I know potential landlords with vacant units who are refusing to rent them out. It's too dangerous.

  13. Seattle. Because some people think not even California is crazy enough for them.

    I mean seriously. When people mock California I just point them to Portland and Seattle.

    1. Every country has a city they make fun of. In America, you make fun of Seattle. In Soviet Union, we make fun of Seattle.

  14. Set high rents, but provide discounts to market rates, with the discounts subject to modification on 60 days notice. If the City can pretend this law isn't rent control, landlords can pretend revocation of discounts aren't rent increases.

    1. "Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price" has been a valid scam to cushion price controls for decades.
      When the fascists took over in the seventies, "prices" were never raised, but discounts got smaller and smaller. Somehow, to the citizens, it still felt like price increases.
      Sort of like now; "no inflation", but where there used to be frequent BOGO sales at the grocery store, a sale sign is now as rare as an honest politician.

      1. My local shop raised prices and then put sale signs with the original prices. Almost everything is on sale and my bill gets higher.

  15. Hmm, so landlords can't get tenants to relocate? What does a routine hit go for these days in Seattle. And how much more for someone like Sawant? Maybe crowd source that one (and stream it live)?

    All done peacefully, of course.

    1. It would be a terrible shame if Idiot Sawant went swimming with the orcas.

  16. Dunno if it's legal, but it is guaranteed to raise rents, with the increase going to the newly-required legal fees to make sure the landlord isn't in trouble.
    Any bullshit like this benefits the legal trade.

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  18. Both are the handiwork of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, who argues the twin bills are needed to protect tenants from a post-pandemic upswing in rents—and from capitalism more generally.

    Tenants will indeed be protected from capitalism and an upswing in rents: they will likely simply become homeless. After all, who wants to rent to people under those conditions?

  19. Nothing in this act shall be construed to preempt local ordinances that relate to the control of rents or other relationships at floating home moorage sites.

    I'm sure they mean trailer parks (and such a law would probably be legal as applied to them, thanks to this clause), but that wording makes me picture a bunch of houses tethered to a pole, floating in the breeze.

    1. Floating homes are boat houses in the sound. There are many in that area.

      1. Not in the sound, in Lake Union.

  20. Cue the complaints of a lack of affordable housing in Seattle in three, two, one….

    1. That's no problem--they'll just pass another law to fix that: builders will be subsidized with billions in "public private partnerships" to build "affordable homes" that go to Democrat constituencies.

  21. Every renter in Seattle should just plan to get a semi-annual notice of a 9.8% rent increase for the forseeable future, regardless of market conditions under this set of laws.

    People in lower-rent properties might want to anticipate their buildings "going condo".

  22. Yeah capitalism sucks. Rent control is a right of the people, and this capitalist nonsense just gets in the way, leading to housing shortages and housing that quickly degrades into slums. Why not just go the socialist route in the first place and start us all out in government housing shitholes?

  23. If the RHAWA is "currently reviewing the legislation to see IF they'll file a lawsuit", then Homeowners have ALREADY lost.
    Councilmember Sawant and her weak-kneed rubber-stamp City Council have "crafted" a remarkably simple-minded and completely one-sided piece of legislation. It's also suspiciously short sighted; the practical effect will be to chase small-unit Owners out of the Seattle housing market, thus opening the doors to the already underway national takeover by the corporate mega-Landlords.
    Today, that group is watching with approval as the Seattle City Council is fulfilling their mandate (are any Seattle "reporters" following the money?) , and when the small-time Owners have left the playing field, the Big Boys will buy back control of the housing market legislation and strip out ALL renter protections.
    The only question is whether RHAWA is in on the game, or if they have any fight in them.

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