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Effort renewed to make landlords pay when tenants are priced out

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The bill is similar to a Portland ordinance


Back in 2017, Kshama Sawant announced that she was working on legislation that would make landlords pay for tenants’ relocation when their rent gets too high. Monday, Sawant announced a renewed effort for the same plan: Taking Seattle’s existing relocation assistance ordinance, a policy that currently covers remodel and demolition-related displacement, and expanding it to cover moves prompted by a drastic rent increase, better-known as an “economic eviction.”

The legislation is similar to a Portland ordinance that passed in 2017 that requires landlords to pay an amount based on apartment size for both no-cause evictions and for moves prompted by rent increases. At the time, rent control was illegal in Oregon—citing that law, the ordinance was challenged in court almost immediately—and it was unclear what kind of precedent that would set for Washington, where rent control is currently illegal.

A lot has changed since the Portland ordinance passed. Not only did Oregon lift the ban on rent control, it implemented it statewide, a first-in-the-nation effort.

Rent control is currently illegal in Washington, although calls for rent control have gotten increasingly common. Sawant introduced the economic eviction effort at the same time as planned legislation to build in rent control in Seattle in case the ban is ever lifted.

The city of Seattle’s current laws only require 30 days of notice for a rent increase, or 60 days if the increase is more than 10 percent within a one-year period. With no rent control, there’s no actual limit to how much a landlord can raise rent.

Under Sawant’s proposal, if the rent increases 10 percent or more within a one-year period and the tenant moves, the landlord would have to pay for three months of rent to help the tenant relocate. The ordinance would only apply to tenants making 80 percent of area median income or below, or about $50,000 a year for a single person.

The ordinance is also similar to Seattle’s existing Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, which has a lower income threshold—around $30,000—and applies to remodels, demolitions, or removal of subsidized housing.