Seattle Lawmakers Vote To Cap Move-In Fees For Renters

Dec 12, 2016

Renters in Seattle may soon be able to pay their security deposit, last month's rent, and other move-in costs on a six-month payment plan.

That's the central provision in a law Seattle lawmakers passed Monday afternoon that's designed to lower the up-front costs of moving into an apartment. Backers cheered the passage as an important step toward easing pressure on renters amid the city's spiking rents. 

The bill passed 8-0 despite the opposition of landlords who packed a section of the City Council chamber. They called the law burdensome and said it exposes them to risk, for instance if a tenant damages an apartment then moves out before the security deposit is fully paid. 

"We worked hard for what we got," said Rick Lockhart, who said he's been a landlord for 30 years. "I worked eight hours, 10 hours a day, came home to make sure I established my property to get where I am. And now you want to step in and tell me what I need to do with my property. I don't think it's democratic." 

Lawmakers on Monday voted 5-3 to amend the bill to exempt live-in landlords from some of the requirements. 

Supporters of the law say the money due upon moving into an apartment can amount to thousands of dollars -- and represent a major barrier to finding housing in Seattle.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the lead author of the law, said it's designed to "limit the exorbitant move-in fees that tenants are expected to pay in this city of skyrocketing rents." 

"The laws of this state are overwhelmingly stacked against renters, particularly the state ban on rent control," Sawant said. "However, as tenants get more organized locally, we are starting the process of winning individual tenants' rights that will add up to a significant tenants' bill of rights in this city." 

The law also limits a security deposit plus non-refundable fees, like those for screening prospective tenants and cleaning apartments before move-in, to the cost of one month's rent.

If Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs the bill, it will go into effect 30 days later.