Guide to Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws

Tenant Check September 20, 2019
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Guide to Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws

Renting in Seattle is a booming business! But owning and managing properties in such a desirable area come with complications. We’ve compiled a guide to help you know what to look out for and where to learn more.

Just Cause Eviction Protection

The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance (JCEO) requires that Seattle landlords have just cause reasons to terminate a tenancy. This ordinance will also impact the evictions of month-to-month or other periodic tenants. There are 18 total just causes listed in the ordinance. Some of the most common include:

  1. Failure to pay rent 
  2. Rent is regularly paid late
  3. Tenant regularly fails to comply with the rules of the rental agreement
  4. Landlord intends to occupy the unit themselves or rent it to an immediate family member
  5. Owner decides to sell a single-family dwelling unit

Fair Chance Housing Ordinance

To address bias against renters who have served their time, Seattle deemed it unlawful for landlords to use criminal history as a reason for unfairly denying someone housing that they are otherwise eligible to rent. It also prohibits the use of language and advertising that would exclude potential tenants with a criminal history, arrest or conviction records. Knowing the details of this law are crucial when screening tenants in Seattle. Using an online tenant screening product, like Whitepages TenantCheck, designed to omit information based on the region of the rental property, can help but having a clear understanding of this particular ordinance is important to avoid illegal discrimination.

Rent Increase Notice

When increasing housing costs of 10% or more in a 12-month period, 60 days’ notice is required for all Seattle tenants.

Security Deposit and Fees

Seattle has some additional limits for landlords when charging security deposits, move-in fees, last month’s rent, and pet deposits. There is a difference between fee (will not be returned to the tenant) and deposit (could be returned to the tenant), so it is important to use the correct terms on the lease and during conversations with the applicant. 

Restrictions and guidelines on non-refundable fees include:

  • The landlord is allowed to charge a holding fee while reviewing applications
  • If the application is declined that fee must be returned
  • If the application is accepted that fee must be applied to the move-in fees. 
  • Move-in fees cannot exceed 10% of the first month’s rent
  • Pet deposits cannot exceed 25% of the first month’s rent
  • The total of the security deposit and move-in fees (cleaning or tenant screening) cannot exceed one month’s rent. 

Seattle renters are also eligible for installment payments of these deposits and fees. 

Depending on the length of the lease the security deposit, move-in fees, and last month’s rent can be paid in equal installments.

  • 6-month or longer lease deposit and fees can be paid in 6 monthly installments
  • 30-day to 6-month lease deposit and fees can be paid in 4 monthly installments
  • Month-to-month lease deposit and fees can be paid in 2 monthly installments
  • Pet deposits can be made in 3 monthly payments 
  • It is illegal to decline an application or charge interest or additional fees if they choose an installment payment option
  • A different agreement can be made between the tenant and landlord if it is included in the lease agreement

Security deposits must be returned, with a detailed statement of any deductions, within 21 days of the tenant moving out. It is important to review Seattle legislation around the return of deposits.

Pets

Renting to pet owners in Seattle can be a little sticky. It is best to get all the information from the applicant during a pre-screening phone call or property visit. 
The pet deposit cannot be more than 25% of the first month’s rent. This deposit can be made in three monthly installments.
It is unlawful to charge a “pet fee” because any fees must be used for cleaning the unit when they move out or tenant screening. Reminder: move-in fees cannot be more than 10% of the first month’s rent.

Service Animals

In Seattle, things get complicated when the pet in question is a registered service animal. You cannot ask about the applicant’s disability, but you can request verification of the animal relating to the tenant’s disability-related need. 
“No pet policy” will not apply and the animal need not be trained. In this circumstance, you will also not be permitted to charge pet rent or impose breed restrictions. 
The tenant is still responsible for the behavior of the animal and any damage done to the property.

Seattle Utility Billing

All city of Seattle landlords renting buildings with three or more units are able to utilize third-party billing for utilities. Third-party billing is a popular option for landlords when managing the division and payment of utilities. The landlord pays the utility usage for the building, and tenants are charged on the divided bill. Landlords must inform tenants of any changes in utility billings. 

Keeping Things Up To Code

Building owners must meet certain minimum standards and keep buildings in good repair. If a serious problem is reported to the landlord and it is not attended to, the tenant has the right to report it as needed to the Department of Planning & Development. They’ll send out an inspector and if they find code violations, the owner will be required to make needed corrections. 

Right to Organize

The Seattle Housing and Building Maintenance Codes prohibit landlords from discriminating against or preventing tenants from organizing in their building. The activities outlined include posting flyers in common areas, passing out flyers to neighbors, inviting neighbors to get involved, and holding meetings where landlords or management are not in attendance.

Tenant Relocation Assistance

The Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance requires that landlords pay relocation money and provide 90 days’ notice to low-income Seattle tenants when being displaced. This is specifically when the tenants are displaced because of housing demolition, substantial rehabilitation, change of use, or removal of restrictions placed on subsidized housing. This is one of the more involved legislations in Seattle and more detailed information can be found at seattle.gov.

Condo Conversion

Landlords must provide 120 days’ written notice when converting a multi-unit building to condos. Current tenants are also given the right of first refusal to purchase the unit being converted. Households will also qualify for relocation assistance provided by the landlord if they are earning less than 80% of area median income and opt to not or cannot remain in their unit.

For a copy of the most recent legislation visit Seattle.gov.

For an overview of the July 28th, 2019 changes see our article on Washington Landlord-Tenant Law changes.