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Seattle City Council passes bill making landlords help some tenants relocate after rent hikes

A second bill passed Monday would also require landlords to give tenants six months' notice for any increases to rent.

Editor's note: The above video on Seattle's eviction moratorium being extended through mid-January was published on Sept. 21, 2021.

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council voted to pass two bills Monday, each aimed at adding more protection and assistance for residents who face rent hikes.

The first bill requires Seattle landlords to give tenants at least 180 days’ notice of any rent increases, triple the current number of days required. The second bill requires landlords to provide financial relocation assistance to tenants who vacate their homes due to rent hikes and qualify for the assistance.

The latter bill will be made possible through an application system, which will be initiated by the tenant needing relocation services. The city will determine whether the tenant needs assistance and how much money they can receive in assistance. The city will then request that amount from the tenant’s landlord who can either pay the amount or appeal.

The bills were hailed by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, chair of Seattle’s Sustainability and Renters’ Right Committee, who mostly credited her own office, along with other parts of the community, for Monday’s vote.

The two bills will now head to Mayor Jenny Durkan's office for her signature and would take effect 30 days after her approval. 

The effort was largely in response to Seattle's staggering rent prices, which are among the top 15 most expensive U.S. rental markets, according to a recent study from Zumper.

The study found that, despite the pandemic, rents have gone up over the past year with the median cost of a two-bedroom apartment going up more than 5% from August to September this year. 

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The relocation assistance bill passed unanimously, but Councilmember Alex Pedersen was the only holdout on the bill regarding 180 days’ notice.

Pedersen voiced his support for the legislation during the council meeting but said that he would vote no because the bill did not exempt small landlords, specifically those with four or fewer units.

“In fact, I’ve heard from multiple mom-and-pop landlords with concerns. So, I will be voting ‘no’ on this bill mainly because it does not exempt small landlords,” he said during the council meeting.

The bills. if they do become law as passed by city council, would apply to all landlords no matter how many units they control. 

Other groups flatly opposed both bills, arguing they would only serve to raise rents.

“These bills do nothing to address our housing shortage and are just the latest in a string of bad ideas that have made housing more expensive over the last seven years,” the Rental Housing Association of Washington and Washington’s Multi-Family Housing Association said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, the two bills come as Seattle, like many cities, faces a crossroads of sorts with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, federal assistance waning somewhat and various government agencies struggling to get financial help to those who need it before the eviction moratoriums end.

Seattle’s eviction moratorium was recently extended by Durkan from Sept. 30 to mid-January as King County reported that it had only distributed 10% of its rental assistance funds.

Durkan’s office said Seattle was able to distribute more than $15 million in federal funds for tenant and landlord relief from June through mid-September, with another $28 million in federal help on the way after being approved in August.

Following the expiration of the city’s moratorium, a new ordinance passed in May 2020 will give renters six months to claim defense against eviction for non-payment if they can prove financial hardship.

The ordinance could effectively protect tenants from eviction through mid-June 2022, Durkan’s office said.

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