The author, Marit Knutson, is a nurse and former property manager who says the city should require landlords to offer tenants payment plans for their move-in fees.
The author, Marit Knutson, is a nurse and former property manager who says the city should require landlords to offer payment plans for move-in fees. The Stranger

As a nurse and former property manager, I understand how good health depends on stable housing. Even though housing is a human right, many of my patients are unable to access housing because of the high move-in fees landlords often require upfront. The Seattle City Council must pass move-in fee reform legislation without any exemptions for landlords so housing in Seattle can be more accessible.

During the time I was a property manager in Seattle from November 2014 to October of this year, I had a disabled tenant who lived in her unit for 15 years and received a Section 8 voucher to subsidize the cost of her rent. The Section 8 voucher provided her housing stability for some time, but eventually the rent increases started to approach the payment limit allowed by the voucher. The management company I worked for was not going to protect her from displacement. They raised her rent each year despite her vulnerability. She was actively searching for a new home but couldn’t find a place she could afford because of upfront move-in costs.

She was an elderly woman with a pacemaker and a myriad of allergies, and I knew she could not survive without housing. After leaving my job as a property manager, I pleaded with the company to protect her from more rent increases. If her rent continued to go up, I worried she would be forced from her apartment and eventually live unsheltered if she could not secure alternative housing. If payment plans had been available, her situation might have been different.

Today, I care for patients who suffer from cancer, which is exacerbated by housing instability or homelessness. At times these patients cannot find better living situations largely because high move-in fees create an insurmountable financial barrier to housing, and they in turn face worse health outcomes.

Saving for the upfront move-in fee costs while paying high rent forces many lower-income families to choose which basic needs they can afford for the month. As a result, people may go without medical treatment, forego healthy foods, or skip health insurance coverage.

Families should not be forced to sacrifice their health because of high move-in costs, especially because landlords do not need these payments in a lump sum. Security deposits are not typically used until the end of the tenancy. With payment plans, property owners will still receive tenants’ move-in fees, just over a few payments instead of all at once.

I urge the Seattle City Council to pass the move-in fee legislation without any amendments that would exempt landlords. We need this legislation to cover every single tenant in the city in order to dramatically reduce housing instability and homelessness and create a healthier city for everyone.

Marit Knutson is a registered nurse in oncology at University of Washington Medical Center. She is a future family nurse practitioner focusing on women's healthcare.