Seattle is cracking down on greedy landlords:

After many months of process, the Seattle City Council voted 8-0 to restrict move-in fees imposed on tenants, and give renters more options in how they choose to pay these and other costs associated with moving.

The legislation is part of what Councilmember Kshama Sawant has called a “Tenants Bill of Rights” — a methodical unveiling of renter-friendly laws that, when taken together, can be viewed as a complete package.

Sawant introduced the legislation last summer with the Washington Community Action Network, a local advocacy organization. It takes several unprecedented steps. For one, it restricts the security deposit and non-refundable fees — often labeled as cleaning fees — to one month’s rent. Second, it will allow tenants to pay the security deposit as well as last month’s rent in installments.

What’s interesting to me about this battery of regulations is how it runs almost the opposite of the problems I’ve seen with dubious landlords back in Colosse. Back there, it was never really an issue about what they would do to you when you moved in, but rather what they would do once they had you. After you’d moved in.

A long time ago I was chatting with a newly-wed friend from Canada who was apartment hunting. He was frustrated because they couldn’t find a good place. Worse yet, the places he did find wanted a six month or year-long lease. I wasn’t quite sure the issue when he said that, though. Was he looking for something longer? No, he was aghast at the notion of signing a lease. Only unscrupulous landlords in Toronto did things like that. If their apartment was good, then why would they want to lock you in?

This was the opposite of my view, to a degree. We always wanted a lease because a lease locked in the rent. As long as you were on that lease, they couldn’t raise it on you. And after that, it was often open season. And that, rather than the things Seattle is seeking to regulate, was always the issue. They would have low introductory rents, often with the first month free or 30% off the first three months and whatnot. The goal to get you to move your stuff in. Then, once you’d moved your stuff in, they would often had some formula explaining how much they could gouge you for to line their pocketbooks without tipping you towards moving.

Rent going up after the end of the lease was norm, even if rents for new tenants was holding steady and introductory offers were getting better. So the very things that Seattle seeks to combat, gouging them at the move-in, was really a non-starter. If I’d wanted to regulate the Colosse market, it would combat the opposite thing as Seattle.

Which makes sense, to a degree, because of the different markets. The Seattle rental market is pretty tight and therefore being able to find a place at all can be a challenge. That, in turn, gives landlords an awful lot of leverage. Meanwhile, in Colosse, expansion occurs in all directions and there is not shortage of places. So to get you to notice them, they need to have big signs saying “First month free!” or something of the like. The only time they do have leverage over you is once you’re moving there. So that’s when they turn the screws to subsidize the people that just moved in.


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About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

6 Responses to Gouging From The Front, Gouging From The Back

  1. Peter says:

    Around me, you could rent out a Porta Potty as an apartment and it will be rented by the next day.

  2. SFG says:

    One of the bizarre ironies of being a relatively high-income renter is that when you have enough to throw around, they stop bothering you. Nobody played games with me and the rent increases year to year were nominal at best.

    Matthew 13:12–I’m not a religious man, but the KJV strikes me as true-to-life in many ways, and often a beautiful bit of poetry. It’s too bad academia’s so left-wing, I’d love to see a bunch of English literature professors brought together to do a new translation given how much we’ve learned about Greek, Hebrew, and Latin over the years.

    • Gabriel Conroy says:

      I either hadn’t known that verse or had forgotten it, but it does seem to describe how things work on this earth. (But to be clear, I don’t have any informed view on what the verse means, spiritually speaking.)

      I’ve been pretty fortunate with landlords and renting situations. Even my worst situation wasn’t that bad (knock on wood….I’m still a renter). It certainly helps that my wife and I count as relatively high-income renter (again, knock on wood….fortunes can change).

    • Brandon Berg says:

      I think the reason for this is that low-income renters are likely to look high and low for the best deals they can find. From there, the rent can only go up. The better a deal it is now, the more it has to go up to reach market levels. High-income renters are more likely to be renting units that are already at market price or even a bit overpriced.

  3. Kazzy says:

    My building insists everyone is getting a discount. My lease says “Market Rate: $X, Your Rate: $Y” with X several hundred more than Y. BS. If the market would bear out more, they’d charge it.

    They tried to jack my rent after a year. I called them out, played hardball, and negotiated a $75 increase (partially offset by a negotiated credit for parking due to construction in the garage). That was about 3.5% (before accounting for the credit).

    There logic was nonsensical. They were building a new building which would make the neighborhood more desirable, you see. This would increase rents, you see. And had to be paid for, you see. By me… you see?

    No. A neighborhood becomes more desirable THAN you build more units. We have vacancies in the building… adding more supply will depress rents. And I’m living through the construction phase and will be gone before any of these supposed benefits are realized. Why should *I* pay for YOUR building? Oh yea… and here are the code violations I’ve documented in my time here and the statute numbers associated and my sister is a fancypants lawyer… wanna tussle?

    Zazzy… who also lives in the complex… got the same deal (after initially getting an even higher rent increase.

    And all this was after they sent me an offer sheet in error that represented a 50% reduxtipn in rent! I signed and returned it (their error, not mine); they printed a lease with the corrected rate and acted like I had already agreed.

    They were dumb and shady. More importantly, the market was on my side. Moving would have sucked, but they needed me more than I needed them and the result showed that.

  4. Peter says:

    Colosse landlords figure that the expense and inconvenience of moving will lead most of their tenants to renew their leases despite rent increases. Tenants who don’t mind moving each year, which admittedly is a lot to ask, probably can take advantage of one move-in deal after another and make out very well.

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