Members of Washington CAN and Socialist Alternative urged the council not to put off voting on the bill.
Members of Washington CAN and Socialist Alternative urged the council not to put off voting on the bill. Hg

Before a small but vocal crowd occasionally shouting "sellout," the Seattle City Council voted Monday to delay a bill that would limit the move-in fees landlords can charge tenants and that would require landlords to allow tenants to pay fees and deposits in installments.

The bill, sponsored by Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold, would cap non-refundable move-in fees at 10 percent of rent and establish payment plans for fees and deposits depending on the length of a lease. Landlords have opposed the bill and some council members say it hasn't received a thorough enough vetting in the council's committee process. The council voted 7-2 Monday to send the bill back for more discussion in Sawant's energy committee, promising they aren't trying to kill the bill by delay. Sawant and Council Member Mike O'Brien were the only votes against the delay.

During public comment, speakers criticized some council members for taking campaign contributions from landlord groups, saying their vote to delay the bill was actually an effort to kill it. Others tied the city's ongoing homelessness crisis to the need for tenant-friendly laws.

Seattle resident Margaret Diddams told council members she stayed in an abusive relationship last year because she couldn't afford the high upfront costs of moving out of the home she shared with her then-partner. "Domestic violence is related to housing," she said. "We need opportunities to get safe."

Ahead of the vote, Council Member Debora Juarez, who proposed the delay, said she believes the bill needs more clarity about how it will be enforced. Council Member Lorena González suggested several technical changes, including anti-retaliation rules. Both said they support Sawant's intention with the bill. Earlier Monday, Herbold questioned the need for a delay. She voted for it after other council members assured that the bill would get a new meeting this month or next. It's unclear exactly when that meeting will happen.

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

Monday's discussion took a weirdly personal turn when Sawant attacked Juarez for working behind her back to try to delay the bill. Sawant said she only heard that Juarez wanted a delay after Juarez talked to Herbold and then Herbold told Sawant. Sawant questioned Juarez's motives. It has been more than two weeks since the last discussion of the bill, Sawant said, and "I have not seen Council Member Juarez do anything about this in that time."

Some members of the crowd, including members of Sawant's party, Socialist Alternative, heckled Juarez.

"I wasn't trying to hide anything," Juarez responded. "I actually work really well with Council Member Sawant. I consider her a friend."

After the vote, members of Washington CAN, the advocacy group that has lobbied for the bill, said they were disappointed in the delay.

"Make no mistake," said Washington CAN organizer Gina Owens. "We are coming back. We are coming back strong and forceful and we are coming back with more voices."

Sean Martin, external affairs director at the Rental Housing Association of Washington, said his group would continue lobbying against the bill but he expects the council to pass it easily, it did with other recent tenant protections.

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Martin argues the legislation will incentivize landlords to charge higher rents and will make it easier for tenants to break leases. (His reasoning: Tenants will be more willing to forfeit their deposits and break a lease if they've only paid several installments of that deposit instead of the full amount.) Martin says he believes small landlords will sell their properties if Seattle continues passing tenant protections like this.

Still, he's skeptical his group can kill the bill.

"As much as advocates think we have the ear of the council and they're doing this because we asked them to, I wish that was the case," Martin said. "That's pretty laughable."