Hello, new person. As you probably know by now, you have moved to one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.
Median Seattle renters are now paying $1,448 a month, up $92 from 2015, according to census data analyzed by the Seattle Times. But the market feels more expensive than that because many of the new apartment buildings coming online or showing up on Craigslist are far more expensive than that. According to various measures, rent ranges from $1,300 to $1,800 a month for a one bedroom. Think you might buy a house or condo instead? Good luck. The median Seattle home now costs $725,000, and a recent report found that households need to make $93,400 or more a year to afford mortgage payments.
Nearly half of Seattleites are now renting. Renting has its drawbacks, but the good news is that some people are trying, however incrementally, to make renting in Seattle suck less. There is no rent control here (it's against the law), but you do have new rights you should know about, like limits on rent increases if your landlord lets your apartment turn into a hellhole, or required payment plans if your landlord charges high move-in fees.
You also have advocates in the counselors at the Tenants Union of Washington State to help you. And you have me, who you can e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question about renting. I just might use your question in a recurring column called Maintenance Request that appears every other week on our blog, Slog. Here are some recent questions that will probably be of interest to you as a new Seattle resident.
What's the best way to find an apartment in Seattle?
I get variations on this question a lot. "What's the secret to finding an affordable apartment?" "Where are all the cheap apartments?" "Please help, the rent is too high, I don't want to move to Tacoma, PLEASE!" The truth is there's no good answer. If some affordable apartments entered the market 10 minutes ago, they've been snapped up by now. Few neighborhoods, even those farther from the city center, are really that much cheaper than any others.
The one solid piece of advice I have is this: Walk around and look for signs. Craigslist is a losing game. Even if you're checking the site obsessively and e-mailing as soon as you see a new ad, you'll find yourself 15th in line to apply for a $1,500 studio apartment with an electric hot plate instead of a stove. If you can, try to scope out the neighborhood where you want to find a place. Look for signs on buildings, snap a picture/write down the number, and call. In a competitive neighborhood like Capitol Hill, this is your best bet for finding an open apartment before the suckers browsing PadMapper.
I found a cute apartment with the perfect breakfast nook in a clean-looking building. It seems good, but I have crippling trust issues. How do I know this landlord isn't a scammer?
Do your best not to rent sight unseen. Don't pay a deposit or any rent money without signing a lease. Google around for online reviews warning you about the building. But all that is probably obvious. A less obvious resource: Check out the Property and Building Activity map on the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections website. This tool will let you see whether the building has faced serious complaints about leaks, faulty electricity, or other housing-code violations. Once you're on the map, type in the address, check the box for "Property and Building Complaints," and click the little black marker on the map for your building. Then click "Permit and Complaint History" and scroll down to see if the building has had any serious complaints. I promise it's not as complicated as it sounds.
We live in a 12-unit apartment building. As tenants' leases end, the landlord jacks up rents, waits for tenants to vacate, remodels the newly vacant units, and rents the remodeled units at a premium. As a result, the building has been in a constant state of construction for more than six months. I know none of this is illegal, but my question is about water shutoffs that are a side effect of the construction. We've had five planned water shutoffs in the last three weeks. Most of these last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but one was 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and another was 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, we've had one emergency water shutoff and another day of no hot water (both presumably due to construction). On another occasion, the e-mail notification of a planned water shutoff listed the wrong day. I'm tolerant about the need for occasional repairs, but this seems excessive. When do these water shutoffs, even when announced in advance, cross the line from inconvenient to illegal? Is it relevant that the water shutoffs are being used to facilitate discretionary remodels, rather than to do repairs on my unit? Is there a point at which I have legal grounds to tell the landlord to cut it out, or at least hire a more competent plumber?
State law says landlords can turn off your water (or heat, or electricity, or gas) for "a reasonable time in order to make necessary repairs." They're required to give you 48 hours notice. But what is "reasonable"? Who the fuck knows! I put the question to the city's inspection department (that's the department responsible for making sure your landlord doesn't allow your apartment to crumble into dust). How do they define "reasonable"? "We don't have a definition for 'reasonableness' because each situation is unique," said Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections spokesperson Wendy Shark. If this nonsense continues, call SDCI at 206-615-0808 and they may send an investigator to check things out.
Are there any reduced rate or pro bono legal services available for tenants in Seattle who have been treated illegally by their landlords? For example, do any organizations offer legal advocacy for renters who have faced racial housing discrimination or illegal eviction?
For general tenant/landlord questions: Try the Tenants Union of Washington State (206-723-0500) or Solid Ground (206-694-6767).
For legal advice: Neighborhood Legal Clinics offer a free half hour of legal advice regardless of income. They offer a sliding scale after that.
If you make too much money to access pro bono services but still need help: Check out the Washington State Bar Association's Moderate Means Program.
If you're facing eviction: Try the Housing Justice Project or the Legal Action Center.
If you live in public housing or have a Section 8 voucher: The Northwest Justice Project.
If you're a University of Washington student: Student Legal Services.
If you live in Seattle and you've experienced discrimination: File a complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.