Seattle City Council Recently Passes Flurry of Bills to Protect Residential Tenants

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Last week, in response to the housing crisis and in support of greater tenant rights, the Seattle City Council passed two sets of bills related to residential rental properties in the City that both landlords and tenants alike should be aware of. The first set of bills addressed landlords’ and tenants’ rights during a tenancy period, while the second set of bills addressed termination of a tenancy.

Most notable, in the first set, the Council passed a bill that restricts the ability of landlords to limit the number of persons residing in a rental unit. Pursuant to the bill, the following persons must be allowed to reside in the unit if their occupancy does not exceed the limits established by law: (1) the tenant; (2) the tenant’s immediate family; (3) one additional person who is not a member of the tenant’s immediate family; and (4) the additional person’s immediate family. Additionally, the bill prohibits landlords from imposing conditions on such non-tenants that are greater than those imposed on the tenants and prohibits landlords from requiring immediate family members to become parties to the rental agreement. This bill will undoubtedly increase the average number of residents per rental unit within the City and density therein.

The Council also passed a bill that requires landlords to provide tenants with non-electronic means to pay rent and other costs and to provide receipts for cash payments and, when requested, for non-cash payments. While landlords were already required to provide receipts by State law, this bill now allows the City to enforce this requirement as well.

In the second set, the Council passed a two-part bill that relieves tenants from liability for damage to a rental unit and creates a program to reimburse landlords for the cost to repair such damage. More specifically, landlords may not charge tenants experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking for damage to a rental unit if it’s proven that such damage was caused by a perpetrator of such acts. Instead, landlords may seek reimbursement from the City through the City’s landlord mitigation program. However, to be eligible, the cost to repair the damage must be between $500-$1000, the landlord must apply for reimbursement within one year of vacation of the rental unit, and there must be funds available in the mitigation program. This bill presents several issues and will be interesting to monitor in the months to come.

Also in regards to termination, the Council passed two other bills that require landlords to comply with the City’s Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance before issuing notices to terminate and to include a reference to City resources with all such notices. Specifically, landlord may not issue a notice to terminate a tenancy and evict a tenant, even for just cause, if the rental unit is not registered as required by SMC 22.214.040; however, once such notice is permitted, landlord must include a reference to the City’s landlord-tenant information and resources. The specific reference language is to be drafted and promulgated by the City.

Overall, these bills drastically increase the rights of residential tenants and obligations of landlords and involve a great level of detail beyond the summaries provided here. If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact one of Helsell Fetterman’s Land Use and Real Estate attorneys.

About the Authors

David Tran

David is an associate in the firm's land use and real estate practice groups.

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