The next time you move into a new apartment in Seattle, your landlord may be required to allow you to pay your security deposit, fees, and last month's rent over the course of a payment plan.
A new Seattle law, sponsored by city council members Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold and passed unanimously today by the full council, will also cap the total amount of security deposits and nonrefundable fees landlords can charge at no more than one month's rent. Nonrefundable fees can't exceed 10 percent of one month's rent unless the cost of the tenant's screening report exceeds that amount.
The length of the payment plans will depend on the details of the lease, and the law will allow landlords to skip offering payment plans altogether if they keep the total move-in costs to less than a quarter of the monthly rent.
One significant amendment to the bill today came from Council Member Rob Johnson, who added an exemption for landlords who rent rooms in their single-family homes where they also live. Supporters characterized that as weakening the original legislation; Johnson argued it would make it consistent with other tenant protections.
Over several months of meetings on the ordinance, supporters have said it will make housing more accessible to vulnerable people as Seattle—particularly crucial as the city faces a homelessness and housing crisis. Survivors of domestic violence have testified that the high costs of moving into a new apartment kept them in dangerous situations, and a representative for the Seattle Education Association said it will help teachers afford to live in the city. In a report by the advocacy group Washington CAN, survey respondents cited high upfront costs as a barrier to moving that was particularly bad for people of color, older people, people with disabilities, and queer and trans people.
Landlords, meanwhile, have characterized it as a burden that could force them to raise rents, sell their properties to large management companies, or stop renting to people with poor rental or credit histories.
The ordinance will take effect a month after the mayor signs it, meaning these new rules will begin sometime in January 2017. Read the full law here.