It’s a good moment for the renters’ rights movement in Seattle.
In 2016 the Seattle City Council moved to protect low-income renters by making it illegal to discriminate against applicants based on where their rent check comes from, capped move-in fees and made it possible to spread payment of those fees over the course of a few months.
Now, as rent prices continue to make Seattle one of the most expensive places in the country to get a room, a group of housing advocates want to give people another tool in their arsenal: knowledge.
People are gathering signatures for I-127, a local initiative meant for the August ballot that would require landlords to itemize rent payments like they would a restaurant bill so people know where their money is going when they sign a lease and when rents increase.
In their preamble, they cite rapidly rising rents, the high cost of housing and opaque nature of rental price hikes.
“… housing can be seen as a service, but unlike many other services, renters are not given a breakdown of costs associated with their monthly rent,” the initiative reads.
Landlords would also have to report the price of their housing units to the city every five years to create a public repository of Seattle’s cost of living and housing stock.
“It’s something so simple, providing people what they’re paying, transparency,” said Devin Silvernail, campaign manager for I-127.
The breakdown would include base rent and then additional costs associated with the building, such as the mortgage, insurance, property taxes, registration fees, maintenance and operations, according to the initiative.
The initiative exempts landlords in owner-occupied single-family units, mother-in-law or cottage units, buildings with fewer than three units and government-subsidized units or properties.
Although I-127 allows tenants to challenge landlords if they feel the bill is inaccurate, it’s not about punishing landlords, Silvernail said.
The Rental Housing Association of Washington responded to the bill by calling it part of a “death by a thousand cuts” practiced against small-property landlords, and challenged proponents to raise money to build more housing if they want to address price concerns in the city.
“How is it useful for a renter to know that a landlord, while generating revenue, was building a cash reserve to fund a roof replacement or similar capital expense? What next, a breakdown of all expenses that go into producing a bottle of shampoo, a box of cereal, or a cup of coffee?” the association wrote in a statement.