After decades of mostly increasing prices, the rental market in Seattle may finally be stabilizing. A substantial number of new apartments have started popping up throughout the area, helping to both keep prices in check and give locals more options for housing. Some complexes have even started offering perks, such as a free month of rent or gratis electronics, in the hopes of enticing tenants.
But that doesn’t mean rental prices have suddenly become cheap. After increasing by 4.7 percent since last year (the smallest increase the market has seen in quite a while), median rent in Seattle for a one-bedroom has hit $1,945, according to Zillow. That means the city has one of the highest rental prices in the country.
Don’t let that scare you away. If you’re looking for a new home in Seattle, there are still ways to find a great place that fits in your budget. Below you’ll find a guide to help you locate your perfect rental unit as well as best practices to make sure your time there is good.
1. Take stock of how much you’re willing to spend.
Tim Thomas, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington who researches neighborhood change and housing inequality, recommends spending no more than 30 percent of your income (after taxes) on rent—a standard measure of housing affordability. Remember to also set aside some funds for non-refundable tenant-screening and apartment-cleaning fees, as well as a security deposit. (All of your move-in expenses combined can’t exceed one month of rent, according to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections).
2. Know that Seattle doesn’t have rent control.
Rent control is against Washington State law, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Although state rep Nicole Macri has attempted to overturn it and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has made it a priority, right now there aren’t going to be complexes with restrictions on annual rental increases, although some low-income housing is rent-restricted based on income.
However, due to recently approved legislation, if your landlord is going to raise your rent more than 10 percent, he or she must give you at least 60 days’ notice, rather than the previous 30 days. Seattle also has a number of cheaper housing options available if you qualify. The best place to look for those is Aptfinder.org, a non-profit website to help low-income households find both subsidized and unsubsidized apartments across the state.
3. Pick a few neighborhoods that you like.
Apartments rent quickly in Seattle, so it’s best to have a few neighborhoods you’re looking in. Given the traffic in the city, you might want to search for a place either within walking distance of work or on a bus or light rail line. With Amazon based in South Lake Union and downtown, those neighborhoods have become particularly popular, though the apartments there can be pricey.
Over the next decade, the city will see a huge increase in its Link Light Rail stations and routes. You may be able to find a deal in some of these neighborhoods now that won’t be available once the stations are up and running. For example, Lynnwood, a city on the northern side of the Seattle metropolitan area, will be getting a light rail station in 2024 that residents can take to downtown Seattle, among other places. According to Rentcafe, the current average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Lynnwood is $1,479, far below the Seattle average.
If you’re comfortable with a long commute, you can also find a deal outside of the heart of Seattle or in some of the neighboring cities, such as Shoreline or Everett. After you’ve thought about your commute, the neighborhood you choose really just comes down to your personal preference. If you want to live among a young crowd in a spot with a busy nightlife, you might try Capitol Hill or Belltown. If you want a quiet neighborhood with lots of families, try Ballard or Madison Park. See our guide to help you find the right neighborhood for you.
4. Apartment hunt on foot.
Seattle is a popular place to live, so the best and most reasonably priced places are going to get snatched up pretty quickly. The best way to make sure you rent your dream unit before someone else is to walk or drive around your preferred neighborhoods in search of ‘for rent’ signs. These types of trips will also give you a taste of the area and whether it’s the right setting for you. If you can’t visit in person, Craigslist, Apartments.com, PadMapper, and Rentcafe can help you get a sense of what to expect in each neighborhood, but we’d still suggest seeing the rental at least once in person before you commit.
5. Do your research.
Just because a place looks good on paper and maybe even in person, doesn’t mean it will be a good fit. The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections offers a variety of tools to check for complaints on complexes throughout the state. “A lot of times the apartments might look nice, but it depends on the management team,” said Mark Chattin, an adjunct professor for Seattle University’s school of law.
6. Be prepared to submit an application as soon as you find a good place.
Rental applications in Washington tend to be fairly straightforward. Landlords may ask for employment information as well as references from previous landlords and community members. They may also check your credit score and whether you’ve been evicted in the past or have a history of late rental payments. There are also safeguards in place to make sure each landlord treats your application fairly. For example, state law requires landlords to ask the same screening questions for all tenants and provide information in advance on the type of criteria they will use to evaluate each application. If you feel like you haven’t been treated fairly, reach out to the Renting in Seattle helpline at (206) 684-5700.
7. Make sure you receive a move-in checklist.
At the same time you sign your rental agreement, make sure your landlord gives you a move-in checklist. This will indicate the condition of the rental unit when you move in, and without it, your landlord cannot require you to pay a security deposit.
8. After you’ve found your new home, learn your rights as a renter.
First of all, congratulations. This process is not easy, and if you were able to find a great place for the right price, that’s an accomplishment. But the work doesn’t stop there. It’s important to know your rights as a Seattle renter, so that you can ensure your home continues to be the space you fell in love with. Read our “10 Seattle renters’ rights your landlord doesn’t want you to know,” and if you need additional resources, try the City of Seattle website, Renting In Seattle, or the Tenants Union of Washington State.