At Solid Ground, we know that secure and reliable housing is fundamental to the health of our families and communities. But between runaway inflation and skyrocketing housing costs, it doesn’t take much these days – an unexpected medical bill, for example, or a blown gasket – for families to come up short when rent is due at the end of the month. And when that happens, many renters in Seattle are caught in a vicious cycle when their landlord begins piling on hefty late fees, making it nearly impossible to ever catch up.
Washington state doesn’t limit how much landlords can charge in late fees, but fortunately several cities in King County have already recognized the cruel toll they have on struggling families and have moved in recent years to cap them. However Seattle, which has the region’s highest housing costs, is not among them. As a result, some Seattle landlords now routinely charge a flat late fee of $50-$200 followed by a daily fee of $5-$50 until rent is paid in full, meaning that a tenant already unable to make ends meet may end up oweing an additional $70-$400 for being just five or six days late.
“Imposing excessive, punitive late fees on tenants who are already struggling to pay their rent makes it even harder for people to reach housing stability.” ~Phoenica Zhang, Solid Ground’s Community Policy Specialist
In addition, we’re seeing a growing number of landlords imposing hidden charges like “notice delivery fees,” charged simply for “preparing and giving notice.” These predatory fees are a new tool used to discriminate against people with low incomes, imperfect credit scores, and past interactions with the criminal justice system.
The Seattle City Council has a chance this spring to stop runaway late fees and predatory fees, and help renters from losing their homes. On March 17, the council will consider an ordinance that would cap late fees at $10 per month – which is already the law in Auburn and Burien – and prohibit predatory notice delivery fees.
Advocating for rental fee reform is just the latest step that Solid Ground and our partners in the Stay Housed, Stay Healthy coalition have taken to help people keep their homes through the pandemic and beyond. We’re committed to this work because we know that a crucial part of preventing and reducing homelessness is helping people keep the housing they already have.
“We’ve provided millions of dollars in rental assistance to people on the verge of losing their homes,” says Phoenica Zhang, Solid Ground’s Community Policy Specialist. “Imposing excessive, punitive late fees on tenants who are already struggling to pay their rent makes it even harder for people to reach housing stability.”
The need for reasonable limits on rental fees is particularly pressing in Seattle, where the average rent is more than double the national average.¹ In the greater Seattle area, 4 in 10 renters now spend more than 30% of their income on rent, and 1 in 5 spend more than half,² leaving little money for food, health care, and other necessities.
With so many people living so close to the edge, it doesn’t take much for a family to fall into financial crisis and come up short when rent is due. And the consequences of not paying late fees charged by a landlord can make matters even worse: Renters who are forced to move out without paying what they owe may find their credit rating seriously damaged, making it even harder for them to get into an apartment they can afford.
Renters struggling to make ends meet during this period of rapid inflation deserve grace, not cruelty. Help put an end to predatory late and notice delivery fees by emailing your city council members and telling them to cap rental late fees at $10 per month. You can also voice your support by giving public comment at the council meeting this Friday, March 17! Contact Phoenica at email@example.com for more details and support.