The next time your Seattle landlord raises the rent, you might be eligible for help

Seattle renters have new protections against large rent increases.

The city is now requiring landlords who increase rents and fees by 10% or more after July 1 to pay certain tenants who leave after the increase.

unanimously approved Launched by the Seattle City Council in the fall, the program aims to help tenants facing economic displacement when a large rent increase forces them to move.

It’s not clear how many tenants may seek help from the new program, and landlords are considering filing a lawsuit.

The law comes into effect when tenants are confronted with rising rents. After rents in Seattle and other expensive cities declined in the early days of the pandemicshe bounced back quickly and have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle is $1,667, up 12% from this time last year and 6% from the same time in 2019, according to the Apartment List.

Not everyone is eligible for the new help.

Receive Economic help with relocationsa tenant must be confronted with an increase of at least 10% of his total housing costs, including rent plus other fees charged by the landlord, such as pet rent, parking, or fixed utilities, within one year. (That could be a 10% increase or several smaller increments.)

The tenant’s household must also earn 80% of the area’s median income or less. That’s $66,750 for a single person and $85,800 for a family of three. And before requesting assistance, they must notify their landlord in writing that they intend to move.

Once the city determines a tenant’s eligibility, the city pays him three months of his housing costs and the landlord must repay the city.

Seattle landlords are required to notify rent increases six months in advance. Tenants can submit an application for relocation assistance at any time after receipt of the rent increase, up to two months after the increase takes effect. To avoid additional costs, the city recommends renters choose a move date that matches the end of their lease.

Because the tenant must tell their landlord that they plan to move before applying for help, tenants must make sure they qualify. Tenants can apply on the city’s website† (Visit seattle.gov/rentinginseattle and click on “I am a tenant”, then on “Moving” and “Economic relocation assistance when moving”.)

Landlords need to “watch carefully” how much they increase costs and be “conscious of whether they are crossing that threshold of a 10% increase over a year,” said Geoff Tallent, manager of rental programs with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. Landlords issuing these increases must ensure: a message informing tenants about their rights under the new program.

Questions remain about how the program will be rolled out.

After Portland legislators passed a similar bill requiring landlords to pay for moving assistance after 10% rent increases or evictions for no reason, landlords sued. (They eventually lost in the Oregon Supreme Court

Seattle hosts face their own challenge.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords, has waited to sue before the law goes into effect, but is “exploring” a challenge based on how the law is being applied, executive director Sean Flynn said. The group would likely argue the law is unconstitutional, Flynn said, but he declined to share details.

“Our legal defense team is looking closely at this to see how it’s being implemented,” he said.

If landlords don’t reimburse the city or move tenants, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections could take legal action against them, but the department rarely uses that power for other laws.

Local landlord groups have previously sued over city tenancy regulations, often arguing that they violate landlord rights or violate the state constitution clause, which states that private property cannot be taken without compensation. But they have lost most from those efforts

Aside from legal questions, the program will not provide new assistance to tenants whose income exceeds the limits or whose landlords issue rent increases of, say, 9.5%.

The city has no idea how many people can sign up for the program.

“We just don’t know how often we will get suitable tenants. We did our best to be ready for that,” Tallent said.

Seattle has a similar program for low-income renters displaced by renovations, but those cases usually take place over a longer period of time and the city shares the costs with landlords. Before the pandemic, about 150 to 200 households received payment from that program each year.

Renters with questions can call the city’s rental hotline at 206-684-5700.

But non-urgent questions can take a week or two to get an answer. Call volume to that line has risen sharply this year, especially after the expiration of Seattle’s moratorium on eviction in February.

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