Last year, Osman Osman and other renters at a south Seattle building formed a tenant union and protested after they faced a rent increase despite roaches, rodents, and other poor conditions.
Last year, Osman Osman and other renters at a south Seattle building formed a tenant union and protested after they faced a rent increase despite roaches, rodents, and other poor conditions. Courtesy of Clay Showalter

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The Seattle City Council yesterday approved a new protection for renters living in unsafe housing and hinted at more renter protections to come.

In an 8-0 vote (Council President Bruce Harrell was absent), the council approved a law that will delay rent increases at buildings with serious housing code violations until those conditions are fixed. Council Member Kshama Sawant and then-Council Member Nick Licata introduced the new rule last year after tenant complaints about a building in south Seattle. There, landlord Carl Haglund was doubling rents despite rodent and roach infestations, broken heaters, and more than 200 other code violations. Sawant nicknamed the bill "the Carl Haglund law."

"There is no law that by itself can guarantee that no landlord will abuse the power over their tenants," Sawant said ahead of yesterday's vote, "but we need laws to cover loopholes."

Unsurprisingly, landlord representatives like the Rental Housing Association of Washington opposed the law. They claim it's a form of rent control and argue landlords need money from rent increases to improve buildings. They've hinted at a lawsuit against the city, though they won't confirm they have plans to sue.

The new rule will take effect in about a month. If you receive a rent increase and live in a building with one of the conditions marked with an asterisk on this list, you should notify your landlord in writing about the code violation. If the landlord doesn't fix the issue, call the city at (206) 615-0808 to request an inspection. For help navigating the process, call the Tenants Union of Washington State hotline at (206) 723-0500.

Sawant and other council members are also promising more renter-friendly rules to come. Council Member Lisa Herbold is working on rules banning landlords from refusing to rent to tenants based on where they get their income. The city's Department of Construction and Inspections is expected to soon propose reforms to the city's rental inspection program. And Sawant announced yesterday that she plans to introduce a bill limiting move-in fees. The law would limit move-in fees to those "those explicitly allowed under state law," Sawant said, and require landlords to offer payment plans for those fees. A similar bill would mandate payment plans when landlords require tenants to pay last month's rent up front.

"Many people find themselves having to pay over $4,000 to move into a new apartment—not counting all the time, effort, and the stress of moving itself," Sawant said. "This can be totally unaffordable and this bill will address it."

I've asked Sawant's office for copies of her proposals to see more details. Stay tuned.