Renters deserve a helping hand to meet move-in fees
The Space Needle looms behind a row of new apartments between Sixth Avenue North and Aurora Avenue North in downtown Seattle in April. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
AS small landlords who rent to supplement our modest incomes, we take our role in the housing market seriously. We offer our tenants affordable rent and payment plans for upfront move-in costs because we want Seattle to be a place for everyone to live, not just the wealthy.
The Seattle City Council passed move-in fee reform legislation last December, which requires landlords to accept payment plans for the security deposit, last month’s rent and nonrefundable fees. It also capped some of these costs. We fully support this legislation because it will prevent working people from being pushed out of the city, with very little impact on the financial security of small landlords like ourselves. We are disappointed that the Rental Housing Association is suing the city over this legislation and urge that group to drop its lawsuit.
We rent to a variety of people, including teachers, nurses, students and food-service workers. Many of our tenants are low- and middle-income. They are unable to come up with thousands of dollars in move-in fees, but they can afford these costs spread over a several-month payment plan. We want Seattle to remain a diverse community that provides affordable housing to families with children, minimum-wage workers, people of color and the elderly. As landlords, we have the ability to influence what Seattle looks like, and we must consider the value of diverse neighborhoods. Seattle’s move-in fee reform legislation will further the goal of a diverse Seattle.
Our city is facing an unprecedented housing crisis. Thousands of people are living unsheltered. People of modest means are being forced out of Seattle because they cannot afford high rents and high upfront fees required by many landlords. As landlords, we have a moral obligation to ensure that people from disenfranchised communities can access housing. The move-in fee legislation will help thousands of people secure places to live.
Some landlords believe this legislation presents too much risk to their financial investments, but we believe this concern is overblown. They are concerned that tenants who are allowed to pay their security deposits and last month’s rent will cause damage and then move out before the fees are paid in full. In an extremely tight rental market, this is an unlikely scenario. In our experience, most tenants are responsible and do not cause damage. Breaking up a refundable deposit into manageable payments does not present much, if any risk.
Current landlord-tenant laws are heavily weighted in favor of the landlord. We can sue the tenant and garnish their wages for any damages to our properties that are not covered by the security deposit. We can send the tenant to collections or provide a bad reference, limiting their ability to rent in the future until we are paid back. In our experience, tenants take pride in their living space, and we have never taken any of these actions against a tenant.
The move-in fee reform legislation will not pose a financial burden to us as landlords. We will continue to receive security deposits and last month’s rent from our tenants, over several months, which allows working people to afford to move into rentals. If we, as small property owners, allow our tenants several months to pay their move-in fees, why can’t other landlords do the same? We urge the Rental Housing Association to drop its lawsuit and start working toward real solutions to the housing crisis so that everyone in Seattle will have access to affordable housing.
Susan Helf is a retired UW Business School lecturer in law and business ethics. She shares her home with two renters in the Greenwood neighborhood. Vivian Queija is a native Seattleite and rents out a house in Fremont. She has allowed tenants to make payments for move-in costs for a decade.