This week, the Seattle City Council will begin considering whether landlords should have to offer tenants payment plans for the charges that can making moving so expensive. Housing advocates (and common sense) say the costs of screening fees, deposits, and first and last months' rent can snowball into a burden that is especially hard to shoulder for low-income tenants. The new proposal, sponsored by Council Member Kshama Sawant, aims to lessen that burden.
The legislation would require that:
• Move-in fees not exceed 10 percent of the first month's rent, unless the tenant screening report exceeds that 10 percent
• Landlords who charge renters for screening reports charge no more than what those reports actually cost
• Landlords offer tenants payment plans for move-in fees, deposits, and last month's rent; they would not be allowed to charge extra fees for offering these payment plans. For leases of six months or longer, tenants would get six months to pay those costs. For leases lasting less than six months, tenants would have to pay those costs in no more than four months or according to another schedule described in the lease. For month-to-month leases, tenants could pay the move-in fees in installments over one month.
A survey of renters earlier this year from the advocacy group the Washington Community Action Network found that high move-in fees are the "biggest barrier to moving."
"Almost all respondents identified up-front costs as a barrier to moving," Washington CAN wrote in a report about its findings, "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."
The effort is sure to face a fight from the landlord lobby, which has also opposed recent council efforts to ban rent hikes at substandard buildings and stop landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income.
Council members will discuss the legislation in Sawant's energy committee tomorrow at 2 p.m. and it's likely get a full council vote early next month.