Renter? Landlord? New city rules on the way

If you are a renter – or own rental property – you’ll want to know about new rules passed by the City Council today. They were sponsored by our area’s City Councilmember Lisa Herbold. Read the related documents; here’s the announcement:

Council unanimously adopted comprehensive tenant protection legislation today. Currently it is illegal to discriminate against a prospective renter whose primary source of income is a Section 8 voucher. The legislation adopted today expands that legal protection to include people who receive alternate sources of income such as a pension, Social Security, unemployment, child support or any other governmental or non-profit subsidy. It also creates a new First- come, First-served screening process that will seek to help address discrimination in housing across all protected classes.

According to the Seattle’s Renting Crisis Report from the Washington Community Action Network, “48% of individuals who pay for rent with Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security retirement income said that discrimination prevents them from having successful rental applications.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park), the legislation’s sponsor said, “When the Seattle Office for Civil Rights conducted secret shopper fair housing testing relating to applicants who applied for housing using Section 8 vouchers, 63% of applicants were shown different treatment, which is already illegal. Today we’re expanding those protections, and I expect this new law will have positive impacts for renters.”

The legislation adopted today is aimed at making the housing application process more objective as a tool to mitigate unconscious bias and ensure the city investments in addressing our affordable housing crisis and homeless crisis are effective.

The source of income discrimination proposal was developed following recommendations from the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda task force. Council further amended the proposal to provide further protections:

1. First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice

Prevents housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority. It requires landlords to review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis.

2. New Eviction Protections

Ensures that tenants can fully utilize community resources to prevent eviction. Landlords will be required to accept pledges from community-based organizations to remedy nonpayment of rent if funds are received within 5 days of an eviction notice.

3. Preferred Employer Programs Banned

Encourages landlords to offer non-discriminatory move-in incentives. In 2015, both media and community members reported discounts on deposits and other move-in fees for rental applicants working for preferred employers. The Seattle of Office of Civil Rights recently concluded that some preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination under Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08).

Councilmember Herbold added, “Tenants benefitting from preferred employer rental discounts aren’t the tenants that need assistance in the affordability crisis Seattle faces. It’s the renters who are on social security or who receive child support assistance that need a helping hand, and that’s who this law was intended to aid.”

The legislation will take effect 30 days following the Mayor’s signature.

48 Replies to "Renter? Landlord? New city rules on the way"

  • joesmart August 8, 2016 (8:17 pm)

    Who cares. Nobody on those can afford Seattle.   Also landlords will still choose who they want. 


  • TheKing August 8, 2016 (9:03 pm)

    I’m sure this makes the council feel good, but it does nothing to increase affordable housing in Seattle. By making everything mandatory or prohibited, the council seems to enjoy being in charge of others assets. I would just sell while the market is hot if I were a landlord. 

  • Molly August 8, 2016 (9:15 pm)

    Wow. Yet again, the City Council votes to infringe on the fundamental right to freedom of association, and to infringe on property rights. This type of burdensome regulation disincentivizes honest, affordable landlords from even being in the real estate market. If the City continues to make it as cumbersome as possible for landlords to rent, we will be left with only big developers who charge the kind of high rents needed to cover the costs of government meddling and forced risk taking. 

  • Mike August 8, 2016 (9:57 pm)

    This is much more complicated than many think.  Not all rentals will fall into the affordable rent category for Section 8 vouchers.  There were ZERO in West Seattle that fit the common rent of a small tiny house like my own.  I even made the rent less than market value right now.

    Your Search Found 0 Properties: 
    (In Seattle, Neighborhood: West Seattle, School District: Seattle, 3 Bedrooms, 1.0 Bath, Rent range $2,200 to $2,400 a month, Smoking Policy: No Smoking)

    • hj August 9, 2016 (8:58 am)

      When did 3 bedrooms become a “small tiny house”?

  • Mark August 8, 2016 (10:48 pm)

    The landlord of a rental property at the end of my street cannot get rid of the tenants who have loud party’s, cause property damage to parked cars and have had the police called numerous times.  Enough with tenant protection what about the small fry landlords who get a trouble tenant and cannot evict them quickly?

    • Mike August 8, 2016 (11:15 pm)

      That’s not directly tied to Section 8 though.  That’s just the idiocy that is tenant rights even when total loss for a landlord is at stake.  Their best option is to call the police for noise violations and other potential illegal activity.  If there’s one underage person being handed alcohol, it’s enough for the police to enter the premises.  That allows law enforcement to get an inside look at other activities and potentially illegal drugs in the house.  If the landlord had put a clause in their rental agreement, they can take the tenant to court for breaking the lease agreement and evict them, also getting the tenant arrested possibly for their activities.  Then the landlord can go after the tenant for damages, pain and suffering.  The neighbors should join in on that case as well, suing the tenant for their pain and suffering.  Bury the tenant in legal fees and costs to the point they must garnish wages and put them on the street.  Then you have a different issue.

    • West Seattle since 1979 August 9, 2016 (8:38 am)

      My landlord recently evicted a tenant because of loud parties and loud music played until all hours.  As far as I know there were no repercussions.

  • Small time landlord August 8, 2016 (11:16 pm)

    I’ve been a landlord with a MIL since 2004. I’ve had people kick holes in doors, leave tons of trash, break their leases (wasn’t smart enough to charge large deposits because I was trying to be nice!) and numerous other incidents. Tenants already have tons of protections! The only protection a landlord has is screening and deposits. I am no fan of slumlords and the like: having a rental is a business and should be handled professionally. 

    Unfortunately though the stakes are uneven. A rental house in Seattle could very well be worth $500,000. The tenant might have a $2000 deposit. The landlord has wwaaayyyyyy more to lose overall. If the tenant say ruins the hardwood floors and it’s a $6000 repair the landlord is on the hook for $4000 and they’re off to court. 

    When I was a tenant what I did for protection was be a good tenant! Have good references and communicate well with my landlords, pay rent on time and not cause trouble. Seems pretty simple to me. As far as section 8, etc that does suck for the people that get an unfair shake but as a landlord with a lot to lose you have to think about your risk. On the other hand I’ve rented to people with great credit and good jobs, etc and they turned out to be terrible! It’s always a crap shoot. Such is the life of a landlord.

  • Justin August 9, 2016 (12:10 am)

    But this is what we want, right? Democratic socialism?

    • Mike August 9, 2016 (8:03 am)

      Just remember that when you drive on our socialist interstate roads.

  • Andy August 9, 2016 (3:42 am)

    I have a house right now that I could rent, but I won’t because of the socialist rent laws that will only get to be more intrusive as time goes on. Instead, I’m going to sell it to a developer who will put a much more expensive house on the property ( It has a great view ) and make a bundle of money. Owning a rental in this city, because of council members like Shama Sawant, is nothing but one big headache, and I refuse to cow tow to them.

  • s August 9, 2016 (5:53 am)

    We have to review applicants one at a time on a first come, first served basis? Does this mean that if I get six responses to a Craigslist ad, I can only reply to the first one, show the property to that one person, and decide yes or no before moving to person number two? If so, that will be burdensome to the landlord because screening tenants will take so much longer, burdensome to the current tenant because there will be a single showing every two days until a new tenant is chosen (as opposed to clumping showings into a few hours on one day), and burdensome to the prospective tenant because the prospective tenant may need to wait two weeks to get to check out a rental. I hope I’m not understanding this new rule correctly. Can Lisa Herbold please clarify?

    • Sunuva August 9, 2016 (7:58 am)

      When I was a landlord I would hold an open house and collect applications. I would then go through the applications in the order I received them and review every single piece of data, call all the references, and call the previous landlords and employers. If any data was missing or if I couldn’t talk to all of the references, then I’d move onto the next application in line. My ultimate approval for the tenant depended on which application was the first to meet all my criteria (income, etc) and also received positive responses from the reference calls. I believe this type of process would still work under the new rules because I’d be running the applications in order, but the ultimate approval came to the applicant who met all the criteria and positive references, oh yeah, and a credit check.

      I’d definitely like to see more details on this new rule, because if it doesn’t allow for continuing to vet multiple applications in order, then it would be impossibly difficult for landlords to screen tenants. In this city, tenants go FAST, and if a landlord can’t move fast, they’ll find themselves with an empty unit!

    • Jay Koster, Hill Crest Manager August 9, 2016 (9:19 am)

      S- It means that if you take two applications for the property, you have to accept the first one that passes your screening. You do have screening, right?

      For those landlords who might be interested in a very in-depth screening report for all your applicants, I invite you to contact me via e-mail.

  • WS gal August 9, 2016 (6:42 am)

    Now instead of renting to someone and putting an ad in the paper for my mil- I’ll just keep it for family. This council is clueless 

  • Eddie August 9, 2016 (8:16 am)

    WS gal: What is this “paper” you speak of?

  • sigh August 9, 2016 (9:10 am)

    Since landlords will have less control (ie more risk) in screening tenants, they will respond by raising the bar for applicants. You can see it now, minimum qualifications in order to accept your application: 700+ credit score, no criminal history, steady income 4x rent, sterling references. Only with this pool of renters would a landlord feel comfortable taking the first one that comes along. It will hurt the people it is trying to help.

    • Jay Koster, Hill Crest Manager August 9, 2016 (10:55 am)

      Unfortunately, simply stating “No criminal history” is discriminatory on the basis of disparate impact. It’s why having a detailed list of which crimes in particular will result in a denial  is crucial. The Washington Attorney General recently conducted tests based on denials for ANY criminal conviction; it was not clear if any action was taken as a result, but blanket denials for “criminal history” will likely result in a discrimination complaint.

      Protect yourself with non-discriminatory screening criteria and thorough screening. Make sure you cover your risks with higher deposits (or cosigners).

    • Dan August 12, 2016 (8:44 am)

      You are spot on correct!

      I am a full time landlord in Pierce County and see the increased minimum screening criteria as the only way a landlord can mitigate the risk of accepting the first minimally qualified applicant.  Consider the ramifications if employers had to follow this process when hiring…. first minimally qualified applicant gets hired in the order received… this is nuts.

      As a private landlord I do a through screening however sometimes I deviate from my set standards to accommodate a prospective tenant that does not fit into the set standard box.  Many times deviations from the set standard can be mitigated with a higher deposit, unfortunately a Seattle landlord will face a a lawsuit if they give anyone a break. I have done very well getting quality tenants that are rejected from rigid rules enforced by large management companies. The enforcement of rigid screening rules in Seattle will make rental housing unattainable for many more people… the officials that passed this law have no personal experience of running a rental business. More renters will be marginalized as a result of this law and landlords will be fed up with this regulation and more will sell their SFH to homeowners than deal with this. 

  • ImNotSpartacus August 9, 2016 (9:11 am)

    So according to the language of the bill:  “H. It is an unfair practice for a person to fail to:  
    1. Note the date and time of receipt of a rental application;
    2. Offer the tenancy to the first prospective tenant  meeting the criteria stated in the written notice required in RCW 59.18.257(1)(a)(ii), except that if a person is required to or chooses to reserve a rental unit or units for low-income tenants who are receiving or qualify for section 8 or other subsidies, this information shall be included in the required notice and the first prospective tenant who meets the criteria stated in the written policy and who are receiving or qualify for section 8 or other subsidies shall be offered the tenancy.”


    Use of a first in time policy affects the a landlord’s ability to exercise discretion when deciding between potential tenants that may be based on factors unrelated to whether a potential tenant is a member of a protected class. Additionally, a first in time policy may favor potential tenants located geographically closer to a unit, so requiring a landlord to accept electronic submission of applications and treat them the same way as a paper submission could be an important consideration. 

    So, yes, I’d like some clarification on this as well. It’s one thing to time stamp the arrival of applications, but what if the landlord calls a reference, doesn’t hear back, goes on to call the next application’s references…or do they have to wait until they hear back from the first applicant’s references?? If not, what if the first one’s references call back after the second – who gets the rental? This all strikes me as having been written by people who’ve never been a landlord.

    • WSCrow August 9, 2016 (11:52 am)

      So since a later section of the ordinance says:

      Nothing in this chapter shall…[b]e interpreted to prohibit any person from making a choice among prospective purchasers or tenants of real property on the basis of factors other than race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology, honorably discharged veteran or military status, alternative source of income, participation in a Section 8 or other subsidy program, the presence of any disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a disabled person where such factors are not designed, intended or used to discriminate. (14.08.190 (B))

      It would seem that the first-in-time provision is in conflict with other portions of the ordinance, and the Council and staff knew this, and passed it anyway. Super.
      Legislation that contradicts itself is a time-and-money-sucking litigation risk for the City and for property owners. Part of why I supported Herbold was that I respected her level of pragmatic legislative experience, and generally thought that Licata came up with ideas that were progressive, but fair and workable. Guess I was wrong about that. 

  • Chris Cowman August 9, 2016 (9:38 am)

    Sounds like a 10% general rent increase should cover these new added costs.  Plus the new inspection costs plus new housing levy plus new transportation costs.  OK 20%.

  • Michelle August 9, 2016 (9:45 am)

      Small time landlords who  have kept rents very reasonable for tenants are going to get a BIG raise going forward.  The only protection left!!!  How do these people get voted into office.  What a backwards joke?

  • JMS August 9, 2016 (9:50 am)

    In my experience your best protection as a landlord is to NOT let bad or potentially bad tenants move into one of your properties. A rental property in Seattle could easily be worth $500K and the landlord has a lot to lose if they get a bad tenant. This first come first serve business needs to be fully vetted as I have no intention of turning over one of my rental properties to the care of a tenant simply because they were the first to respond to one of my ads. As long as I stay within the letter of the law I spend a great deal of time screening potential tenants and very rarely does first come first serve come into play. 

  • Ms. Sparkles August 9, 2016 (10:15 am)

    Excellent points! All of you.  

    “Sigh” in particular nails the problem on the head; by trying to ham-handedly beat the bias out of landlords, this law is just going to encourage landlords to “opt-out” of risk by setting the requirements so high the people who are currently reporting being discriminated against won’t even bother to apply.  Technically that WILL end the discrimination.

    I thought one of HALA’s ideas was to create incentives for landlords to take risks on low-income tenants was to mitigate those risks by providing additional damage  insurance & assist with evicting problem tenants…. what happened to those?  Seems like that would go much farther to addressing the problem than this will.

  • Joe Dirt August 9, 2016 (11:09 am)

    While I feel for people who get displaced, this supply and demand model is our economy. It’s not perfect but it’s the best in the world IMO. No one has a right to live where they want to live. If one cannot afford West Seattle there are plenty of other neighborhoods in the Seattle area or outside of that boundry. People act like if they can’t live where they want to, they have no choice but to be homeless or beg for help (socialism). I’ll never understand this (victim) mentality. Is it going on in other areas of the country?

    • KT August 10, 2016 (2:27 am)


  • Cynical girl August 9, 2016 (11:58 am)

    Why do I suspect there isn’t low income housing within 10 miles of these city council folks. 

    • WSB August 9, 2016 (12:19 pm)

      Councilmember Lisa Herbold, sponsor of this measure, lives in Highland Park, which, like most if not all West Seattle neighborhoods, has a mix of types of housing. – TR

  • Small time landlord August 9, 2016 (12:14 pm)

    There’s also going with your gut too right? Ive chosen a few tenants that looked worse on paper because they presented themselves well and seemed like someone that would be a good neighbor (I have a MIL). With that being said I don’t know what to do to be able to feel comfortable with someone in my basement unless I tighten up the requirements! I haven’t read it all yet but it sounds like at least at the small time level it’s not going to be very helpful

  • Molly August 9, 2016 (12:43 pm)

    The interests of working class and middle class voters are ignored at City Hall, unless it fits in with whatever the virtue signaling agenda du jour is.   Most of the voices that lobby City Councilmembers are special interests that can afford to take time off in the middle of the day –  people/groups who are being financially supported by others labor e.g. non-profs, govt. employees, entitlement recipients, or, very affluent stakeholders. There are a few organizations like the RHA that represent small fry landlords and speak common sense, but they are mostly ignored in the final legislative product. It’s important for CMs to hear the voice of working/middle class voters – please contact CM Herbold’s office if this legislation affects you in a negative way. Contact info is here: You can also sign up for her email newsletter which will announce upcoming West Seattle office hours once dates are confirmed. 

  • Mel August 9, 2016 (1:23 pm)

    As a renter here in WS, I am appalled at the council for passing these new rules. This will only promote higher rents as the supply will be decreased. As you can see, many landlords will chose not to rent out their properties as a result of these new rules.  Strict screening is the only way for a landlord to protect their assets from a catastrophic tenant. But I do hope that some landlords know that not all tenants are bad. I treat my rented townhouse just as I would my own property.

    As a landlord for our personal property in FL , I am thankful that most FL landlord/tenant laws are not applicable to personal property of under 4 units. You can absolutely select the best candidate so long as it does not meet any discriminatory standards.

    This is very disturbing news that neglects to fix the real problem. Section 8 housing conceals a great deal of fraud. The real estate market is not going the crash because of bad loans like in 2007. Section 8 housing is the new trend to inflate real estate. This is part of the housing bubble that is going on the USA and it won’t be pretty. These new rules only promote section 8 housing and further ensuring the Seattle government is fully vested in this bubble.

  • plf August 9, 2016 (2:56 pm)

    We voted these folks in…might I suggest we work hard to fire the lot of them including the mayor who has got to be the worst mayor we have had and that is saying alot

  • TS August 9, 2016 (3:19 pm)

    There is always leases that are less than a year or month-to-month. This will take prospective tenants that must enter into  year long leases out of the loop. You can resign the lease later if you like your tenant.

  • flimflam August 9, 2016 (4:52 pm)

    pretty weird and intrusive (to property owners…) way to “fix” this “problem”. if I was renting out my home there is no way I would simply say “sure!” to the first person to apply. would that make any sense when an employer is looking for a new employee? you’d want the most qualified and least risky applicant, of course. that said, the city council is obviously way out of touch with reality so I can’t be too surprised.

  • wetone August 9, 2016 (6:13 pm)

    As a long time WS blue collar worker soon to be in the poor category landlord  (1 rental) that I worked very hard to purchase and always rented under market value with the mind set of having good long time renters that took care of the place was the way to go, and has worked very well. As this is my retirement funds I need to protect it. But with the push from our Seattle government to squash small fair landlords as others have said I’m planning on raising rent along with requiring a very large damage deposit to cover my investment. I think this really shows how Seattle gov wants to force small timers to sell so more property’s can be developed. Maybe I should just do short term vacation rentals instead, but then city would make that a losing proposition also……not much room left in this city for the hard working blue collar anymore….. Thanks mayor Patchwork and City Council.      

  • sigh August 9, 2016 (7:11 pm)

    It’s important to note that it’s not just landlords that lose with this, it’s also responsible tenants who will no longer have their choice of properties. 

  • Small time landlord August 9, 2016 (7:57 pm)

    this can’t be like it sounds. If I can’t choose who lives in my MIL which is in MY HOUSE!!!!!!! Something is insane. Maybe, hopefully it’s not exactly how it sounds? The idea of possibly being sued for not choosing an applicant to live within the walls of my home because they have a criminal history or whatever else is totally insane.

  • dsa August 9, 2016 (8:06 pm)

    Owners of just a few units such a mil or a home or two should be exempt from these handcuffs.  I have not owned a rental for decades, just to clear that up.

  • s August 9, 2016 (9:22 pm)

    These rules seem like they’re written by people who have no rental experience. I appreciate their motivation but they are harming the people they are trying to protect. I can guarantee that the next person in my rental will be paying much more than the current tenants. I currently charge 70% of market but that’s going up to 100% or more next time, to mitigate for the increased work and risk. I voted for Herbold but now can’t wait to vote her out. We need people who know what they’re doing.

  • Small time landlord August 9, 2016 (10:00 pm)

    I have too! I have rented to the same guy in my 720sq ft 1 BR, 1 bath unit with an in unit washer and dryer, double bowl sink with disposal, dishwasher and nice wood floors, etc with a 1 car attached garage and two additional off street spots, utilities included for $1000 for the last 4 years! He’s a great tenant and is leaving at the end of August because he’s buying a house! I’m super stoked for him as that’s what it’s all about. He was not the first applicant and he had just recently moved to town. I met him and others at an afternoon showing window. I could tell he was a good guy and had a good feeling about him. He just landed a good job at Nucor and move across country for it. He and others were competitive but my gut said he was a good guy. Four years later we get along great and my MIL looks EXACTLY like it did when he moved in. A flawless tenant. Next go round if I can’t go with my gut I’m going with math and risk mitigation. Sorry, but I have a new baby and not much time and a lot to lose. I REALLY don’t want to be like that and need to learn more about the law but at first glance it seems scary.

  • Mike August 9, 2016 (11:20 pm)

    During the first lease term, your portion of rent and utilities cannot exceed 40 percent of the your monthly income. Side agreements requiring you to pay more than 40 percent of income are prohibited.”

    A family of 3 has an income limit of $24,400 to qualify for Section 8 vouchers.    If I was to rent my home, approximate costs of rent + utilities would be $33,600 / year.  Pretty sure that’s over 40% of a $24,400 /yr income. 

    So how exactly does Section 8 housing work in Seattle?  I’ve seen places advertised as “low income housing” for $1200 / mo.  I think that’s comical that it could be considered low income pricing, even median income earners find that costly.

  • DH August 10, 2016 (10:27 am)

    I’m very supportive of things that reduce discrimination but this isn’t the way. I had plans to transition my basement into a MIL and rent it out as my place is too big for just me. I’m not OK as a single woman just taking the first qualified renter into my house. I guess I’ll just keep using all this space. This legislation just reduced at least one rental in WS. 

  • Sage August 10, 2016 (1:56 pm)

    Three cheers for Councilmember Herbold! Very glad to see our District 1 rep move legislation that helps stamp out discrimination and tilt the balance in the housing market a shade more in the direction of humanity.

    • Mike August 10, 2016 (10:44 pm)

      I don’t read it that way.  I read it as a great way to incentivize landlords to not rent spaces out.  I’m guessing you’ll see the impact in a few years when more homes are demo’d and 2 or 3 skinny tall flat roof homes pop up selling for 3x each what the original home was worth.

  • Small time landlord August 10, 2016 (7:01 pm)

    Hey sage! Make a legal ADU and welcome someone with a criminal record and questionable past into your household! Just a disclaimer….IMO discrimination is NOT COOL and the past is the past BUT it still happened. I am ALL ABOUT second chances and people paying their dues and such but there are many nuances here. Owning a MIL ADU I don’t want to be told who can live in my house. It’s MY HOUSE and yes, my choice to create a rental. And also my choice to remove a rental. I have rented below market for the entire time I’ve had a MIL because I value being able to choose who lives one wall from my family (myself , wife and 2 kids). I use it to supplement my mortgage which is a great financial advantage that I share with my tenants because they reduce my mortgage payment but pay below market rent and I’m not some huge company trying to squeeze water from a stone.

    believe it or not….we aren’t all discriminatory a holes that are privelaged and taking advantage of others. 

    Just like every other topic under the sun….. Gangs, cops, whatever….. A few bad apples ruin the bunch. Most landlords are decent people running a business and that’s it. There are bad slumlords out there yes, but they are the minority. :-)

  • Claire Swazey August 12, 2016 (12:07 pm)

    I’m a landlady and this sounds like a toughie. So my question is– does this apply to single units? Small potatoes landlords like me who have just one place they’re renting out? Or is it for peopke renting out a certain number of units or more? 

Sorry, comment time is over.