Seattle tenants are seeing some of the steepest rent hikes in the nation. But they also have some strong laws working in their favor, protecting them from discrimination, excessive fees, and unsafe living conditions.
Be:Seattle, the group organizing a series of "Tenant Rights Bootcamps" this winter, hopes to educate tenants about their legal rights amidst anxiety over the city's tightening housing market.
Experts are prepared to answer a range of questions, from, "Am I allowed to paint my apartment?" all the way to, "What do I do if I'm being evicted?"
Mark Chattin, directing attorney of the Legal Action Center, said tenants should follow some general rules if they want to exercise their rights under Seattle and Washington state law.
"Always pay your rent," he said. "No matter what the landlord has done wrong, if you withhold your rent you put yourself as the defendant in an eviction action, which is the last place any tenant wants to be."
Chattin said the correct first step is to notify the landlord of a problem in writing. In fact, he said, tenants should put all communications with landlords in writing, no matter how good their relationship is.
Two attorneys from the Legal Action Center are participating in the workshops. Organizers said they're prepared to refer people to organizations that can help with specific problems.
Devin Silvernail, executive director of Be:Seattle, said sharp rent hikes in the city have added urgency to the effort to educate tenants.
"Seattle is in an affordability crisis right now," he said. "I think a lot of people are also pretty afraid. A lot of people don't know their rights."
Rentals make up more than half of Seattle’s occupied housing units -- 54 percent -- according to a 2015 Census estimate.
The real estate company Zillow projects Seattle will have the nation's fastest rising rents in 2017.
But the city also has some new legal protections for renters. In December, the city council passed a law allowing tenants to pay up-front move-in costs, like the security deposit and last month’s rent, on a six-month payment plan.
An city anti-discrimination law requiring landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant, regardless of whether they receive housing subsidies, passed last August. City officials plan to begin enforcement in July.
The first Tenant Rights Bootcamp is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Top Pot donut shop in Capitol Hill. Five more workshops are scheduled through March 22.