A summary of the move-in fee proposal from Council Member Kshama Sawants office.
A summary of the proposal from Council Member Kshama Sawant's office. City of Seattle

As the Seattle City Council prepares to take up the latest in a string of new renter protections today, landlords and some on the council are scrambling to put the decision on hold.

The Kshama Sawant-sponsored bill up for a vote today at 2 pm would limit the amount landlords can charge in move-in fees and would require them to allow tenants to pay fees and deposits in installments.

In council committee meetings last month, Seattle landlords opposed the legislation, but a majority of the council voted to pass it out of committee. Now, landlord groups have been trying to convince the council to pause work on the ordinance and send it back for more discussion instead of voting on it today.

Last week, the Multi-Family Housing Association, which represents landlords across the state, sent city council members a letter urging them to send the bill through a stakeholder process. There, they hope landlords would have a hand in drafting the language.

In their letter, the Multi-Family Housing Association takes issue with Sawant's characterization of the problem facing renters. The group claims that based on information from 16 landlords, average move-in costs are about $600. Washington CAN, an advocacy group that supports the bill, says the total costs of moving can often include first month’s rent, last month’s rent, a security deposit, and possible other fees, totaling thousands of dollars and preventing people from moving into housing.

The Multi-Family Housing Association claims that if the bill passes landlords would be less willing to rent to people with poor credit and could evict them for being late with their payments. They urge the council to send the "rushed" proposal back through more process to "properly analyze this ordinance and its negative long term effects before it becomes law." The Rental Housing Association of Washington—which says the bill would "turn landlords in to 0 percent lenders"—has rallied its members to contact the council in opposition to the bill.

Supporters say the effort by landlord groups to send it through more meetings is an effort to either water it down or kill it altogether. Sawant's office points out that she first unveiled the legislation in July and held two committee meetings on it last month.

This morning, council members gave mixed signals about whether they would side with the landlord lobby and seek a delay.

Debora Juarez was the only member to speak directly against the bill, saying she didn't believe it had faced a thorough enough discussion. (Juarez voted for the bill in committee. She was not immediately available to clarify her change of heart.) Juarez said today that she's worried the council hasn't discussed how the city's Department of Construction and Inspections should educate people about the new rules and enforce them.

"What I've learned in this job is there's a lot of legislation that gets passed and it becomes unwieldy and it never gets implemented," Juarez said. Later, she added, "I get all this and I'm for it. I just want to do it right."

Sawant and Council Member Lisa Herbold defended the bill. Herbold said the Department of Construction and Inspections had input on the bill and the committee made some tweaks suggested by landlords. In an interview, Herbold said Juarez asked her recently if she would support sending the legislation back to a different committee (in other words: a committee Sawant does not chair). Herbold said no. "I don't have a clear sense of what it is people hope to accomplish by re-referring this to committee," she said.

Today, Sawant called the Multi-Family Housing Association "ultra-conservative." Their plea for more discussion, she said, "is not an innocent request for more time to improve the law" but an effort to kill it.

Neither the Rental Housing Association of Washington or the Multi-Family Housing Association have returned calls for comment. The council will vote on whether to pass or delay the bill at its 2 pm meeting.