Tenants celebrated the passing of an anti-slumlord law earlier this year.
Tenants celebrated the passing of an anti-slumlord law earlier this year. Clay Showalter

Renters of Seattle, i.e. 52 percent of all city residents, pay attention! City Council Member Kshama Sawant, hot on the heels of passing an anti-slumlord law, is pushing for a new law to make it harder for landlords to fuck you over financially.

Sawant is proposing new legislation today that would drastically limit move-in fees charged by landlords and create payment plans for security deposits, fees, and last month's rent. The idea is to relieve the front-loaded burden of high costs on renters—a barrier facing 87 percent of Seattle low-to-moderate income renters seeking housing, according to a new survey.

The bill (PDF) would do several things:

  • Prohibit the total amount of non-refundable move-in fees from exceeding ten percent of first month's rent. (If a tenant screening report does exceed ten percent, the amount in excess can be included in non-refundable fees, but can't be exorbitant.)
  • Other than non-refundable move-in fees, security deposits, and last month’s rent, landlords are prohibited from charging tenants any one-time fee at the beginning of the tenancy.
  • Prohibit landlords from charging renters for tenant screening reports anything more than what those reports actually cost.
  • Creates a series of installment payment plans for the sum total of move-in fees, security deposit and last rent.

City of Seattle

You can find Sawant's full graphical explanation of the law right here.

Concurrently, Washington CAN! has a report (PDF) out on Seattle's housing affordability crisis, including a survey of 303 residents. The findings on a range of fronts are damning, but when it comes to move-in costs:

The biggest barrier to moving, a problem for 87 percent of respondents, is the burden of expensive up-front costs, including first and last months’ rent, a security deposit, and cleaning costs at move-in. Almost all respondents identified up-front costs as a barrier to moving, though it was particularly a problem for people of color, transgender/genderqueer people, older people, people who are disabled, and people paying with alternative sources of income. One hundred percent of Black and Native people, people over the age of 55, Section 8 voucher holders, and people paying with Social Security income, said they perceive up-front costs as a significant barrier to moving. These are groups of people most likely to have little to no wealth or savings, and limited expendable income.

One survey respondent said she took out a payday loan in order to pay for those "ridiculous" up-front costs.

The report recommends exactly what Sawant is proposing, as well as rent stabilization (also known as rent control), strengthening the city's rental inspection ordinance, and banning landlords from discriminating on the basis of income source. Affordable housing advocates expect a fight from the landlord lobby against Sawant's newest proposal. The Rental Housing Association of Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.