Last year, after tenants in a rundown, roach and rat-infested south Seattle apartment building protested their landlord, city council members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata promised to stop landlords at buildings in such poor conditions from raising rents. In a nod to the landlord facing protest, Sawant branded the proposal the "Carl Haglund law".
Today, Sawant formally introduced that legislation with an unlikely cosponsor: Mayor Ed Murray.
Murray and Sawant rarely agree on much, let alone introduce legislation together, but this idea has broad support. Council Member Tim Burgess, also often at odds with Sawant, said during last fall's election that he supported such a law. Now, as is Murray's way, he'd like to take some credit too. His office is branding the proposal under the work of his housing affordability committee, known as HALA. (Yesterday, Murray introduced another HALA-backed renter protection preventing landlords from discriminating against tenants who use government assistance to help pay their rent.)
"This is a race and social justice issue that disproportionality impacts communities of color," Murray said in a statement today. "We’ve seen landlords let homes fall into disrepair or raise rents to displace and redevelop the property. If Seattle is to become more equitable, we must ensure that rental housing is safe and remains affordable for residents."
Landlords may fight it. Developer lobbyist Roger Valdez told me last year he thinks landlords should be able to raise rents on rundown buildings in order to pay for improvements. A law like this would perpetuate a "vicious circle" of buildings in disrepair, he told me. Haglund, the landlord tenants protested last year, said today he opposes this proposal and thinks the city should focus on improving its rental housing inspection program instead. I've asked the Rental Housing Association, which represents landlords, for comment and will update this post if I hear back. UPDATE: In a statement, the RHA says existing laws, like the city's rental inspection ordinance, give the city enough ways to deal with substandard buildings "without wading in to any discussion of back-door forms of rent control."
In a statement, Sawant credited tenants for organizing to push for this bill: “They called demonstrations to expose the deplorable conditions, and this legislation shows that tenants can win their rights when they organize and fight back.”