Landlords to Sue Over Seattle Cap on Move-In Fees for Renters

Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Mike Rosenberg
Seattle Times

A landlord group is set to sue the city of Seattle in hopes of reversing a new law that allows renters to pay smaller move-in fees and pay their deposit in installments.

The City Council in December voted unanimously to cap move-in fees at apartments and other rentals, hoping to bring relief to tenants already dealing with rising rents.

With rent control illegal in Washington, some council members thought the next best thing was to lower tenants’ other costs. The law limits deposits and nonrefundable fees to one month’s rent and pet fees to an additional one-fourth of monthly rent, and allows those costs to be paid over six months.

But since the changes went into effect in January, landlords say their inability to collect more money up front has left them taking on more risk. Some have reacted by raising rents or increasing the credit-score requirements for applicants.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords locally, plans to file a suit Tuesday in King County Superior Court asking a judge to invalidate the new law, said spokesman Sean Martin. A news conference featuring local landlords is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Their attorneys argue that the limits conflict with the state’s ban on rent control, violate their free speech and due process rights, and amount to an illegal taking of private property under the state constitution, Martin said.

The landlord group says the law is part of a pattern by city officials to restrict landlords’ rights.

Some landlords in March sued over a newly approved law requiring property owners to accept the first qualified tenant that submits an application for open apartments, though that change hasn’t gone into effect yet. The city also recently created the nation’s first renters’ commission, designed to come up with pro-renter laws.

Sean Flynn, the rental-housing association’s president, said the laws probably don’t affect huge property owners with thousands of units much. But his membership of smaller landlords doesn’t know how to navigate the bureaucracy, and some have reacted by selling their properties.

“The mom and pops are scared. It’s created havoc,” Flynn said. “We provide homes for working-class people, and unfortunately this ordinance falls really hard on our membership. It shifts a whole lot of risk back on the landlord and doesn’t allow them to have anything in reserves.”

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