In recent years, Seattle and a handful of other King County jurisdictions have passed laws aimed at reining in out-of-control rent hikes and easing the burden of housing costs on our region’s low-income renters. But a recent survey suggests that many landlords aren’t following the new rules, and many renters may not be aware of their rights.
The Rent Increase Survey, conducted this past winter by the Transit Riders Union (TRU), also found evidence that the new rules may be working as intended despite scofflaw landlords. Three out of four Seattle renters who had a rent increase recently said they received at least 180 days’ notice – as required by a 2021 Seattle ordinance – giving them more time to look at their housing options and prepare for a move if necessary. The survey also found that a 2022 law may be pushing Seattle landlords to make smaller rent increases compared to landlords outside the city.
But the survey also found that the impact of the new rules has been limited because some landlords are ignoring them, or don’t know about them. One in three tenants surveyed said their landlord had taken actions that appear to violate rules related to rent increases.
“These survey results show how important it is to make sure all tenants are aware of their rights,” says Katie Wilson, TRU Co-Founder and General Secretary. “We followed up with respondents after the survey and most told us they didn’t realize their landlords were breaking the law. Tenants are much better able to advocate for themselves, or to ask for help, if they know their rights.”
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What the new rules say
Over the last few years, housing advocates have successfully pushed Seattle and other King County jurisdictions to adopt new rules requiring landlords to give tenants more notice when increasing rent and, in some cases, even pay for their relocation costs if they choose not to stay. Here are the basics:
- Notice: Since November 2021, Seattle landlords have been required to give tenants at least 180 days’ notice before increasing their rent. Other jurisdictions in King County have based notification requirements for landlords on the amount of the rent increase: 120 days for an increase greater than 3% and/or 180 days for an increase of more than 10%. Washington state law requires 60 days’ notice of any rent increase.
- Relocation: Seattle’s Economic Displacement Relocation Assistance (EDRA) law, which went into effect in July 2022, is meant to protect low-income renters from large rent hikes. Under the law, landlords who increase housing costs (not just rent!) by 10% or more must pay eligible tenants the equivalent of three months’ rent in relocation assistance.
What the survey found
While not all landlords are following the new rules, the TRU survey found that many appear to have changed their practices because of them.
Seattle renters are getting much more time to make decisions about rent increases thanks to the city’s 2021 law, with three out of four saying they got 180 days’ notice of an increase, compared to one in five elsewhere in King County. Getting advance notice of rent hikes gives renters more time to research other housing options, secure a new apartment or living arrangement, and prepare for a move. Renters are less likely to get trapped in a lease they can’t afford or become homeless because they can’t find a new place.
Seattle’s EDRA law may also be pushing landlords to limit annual rent increases. Fewer than one in five Seattle renters told TRU they had received a rent increase of more than 10% in the last year, compared to nearly half of renters elsewhere in King County. Many Seattle landlords appear to be hiking rents by between 9% and 10%, just short of the increase that would potentially require them to pay for relocation assistance.
What tenants should know
In all, one third of respondents told TRU that their landlord had done something that appears to violate local laws related to rent increases. Of those landlords, most had failed to notify tenants of a rent increase within the required time period. Others violated the rules in other ways, including:
- Hiking rent by 10% or more without notifying tenants about the EDRA program, which includes potential financial assistance.
- Keeping rent increases just under 10% while jacking up other fees, like parking. EDRA looks at all housing costs charged by the landlord, not just basic monthly rent.
- Making several smaller rent increases over a 12-month period – together totaling well over 10% – without providing an EDRA notice.
How to learn more
You can learn all about your rights under the latest laws by signing up for a free Rent Smart Webinar with Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors. The August 9 webinar on General Tenant Information will cover rent increases, notification requirements, and relocation assistance.
Solid Ground’s Tenant Tips provide general information for Washington state renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services Voice Message Line at the number below. You can also visit our For Tenants webpages at any time where you’ll find a wealth of self-help information.
TENANT SERVICES VOICE MESSAGE LINE
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Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors meet with tenants by phone. Washington state tenants may call our VOICE MESSAGE line, currently receiving messages Mondays and Thursdays, 10:30am – 1:30pm, except holidays (hours and days may change). Please leave a message with your tenant questions, and we’ll return your call as quickly as possible.
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