The Seattle City Council wants to make it harder to raise rents on buildings with rat and roach infestations, broken heaters, and other safety issues. In a committee meeting today, five members of the council voted for a bill nicknamed the "Carl Haglund law" after a notorious south Seattle landlord. The bill will temporarily halt rent increases at buildings with housing code violations until those violations are fixed. The committee vote sends the bill to a full council vote next week, where it is likely to pass.
Here's how the law would work:
If a tenant receives a notice of a rent increase while living in an apartment with serious housing code violations (the stuff with an asterisk on this list), the tenant would notify the landlord in writing of the code violations. If the landlord fails to fix the problem, the tenant could then complain to the city's Department of Construction and Inspections. That department would inspect the property and, if inspectors found a violation, the city could stop the landlord from raising the rents until that violation is fixed.
If the department doesn't find a violation, the landlord could raise the rents as planned. And if the department doesn't get around to checking out the potential violation until after the rent increase has already taken effect, but then finds a violation, the tenant could get a refund of the higher rent they paid before the problem was fixed.
Here's the city trying to explain that in a flow chart:
The bill has widespread support on the council and from Mayor Ed Murray (an unlikely alliance between Murray and socialist Council Member Kshama Sawant, who introduced the bill last year). The only disagreement in today's meeting was about how long tenants should have to contact to the city about a rent increase at a building with code violations.
The first draft of the bill gave tenants 10 days after receiving a rent increase notice to ask their landlord to fix the problem and then, if it wasn't fixed, go to the city. Sawant wanted to extend that to give tenants all the way until the rent increase took effect. The mayor's staff and Council Member Tim Burgess argued for a shorter window. They wanted to increase the 10-day time period to 15 or 30 days, depending on when the rental increase was set to take effect. They worried tenants would wait until the very last day before a rent increase took effect before complaining, giving the landlord insufficient time to fix the problem before getting the city involved. But Burgess lost out on that issue, with the four other council members supporting Sawant's change.
Developer lobbyist Roger Valdez, the Rental Housing Association of Washington (which represents landlords), and Carl Haglund himself have said they oppose the bill. Valdez argues it's a form of rent control, which is banned under state law. Sawant said today the RHA has "threatened to sue the city if we passed this law," claiming it violates the rent control ban.
"If it was rent control, it would help many more tenants than this law will be able to," Sawant said. She added later: "If it violates the state ban, that only makes one point: that [the ban] needs to be lifted immediately."
If you're a tenant living in a rental that you think may be violating housing codes, check this list. Then, call the city at (206) 615-0808 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to request an inspection.