A nonprofit dedicated to empowering Seattle’s vulnerable communities is bringing education about tenants’ rights into each neighborhood. Tenants coping with ever-increasing rent in Seattle can find help at the Tenant Rights Bootcamp, a workshop presented by the nonprofit Be:Seattle at coffee shops and community centers the city.
The Tenant Rights Bootcamp was created with the goal of educating renters in the Seattle area about their rights as a tenant and approaches they can take to better protect themselves from being exploited.
Since its launch in January, the workshop has been held 15 times and has served many people. Be:Seattle held one Oct. 25 at Victrola Cafe on 15th Avenue East and Nov. 11 at Southside Commons. Be:Seattle is already planning its next workshop for mid-November to take place in Lower Queen Anne.
Be:Seattle will continue to reach out to more tenants to help them assert their rights, said founder and Executive Director Devin Silvernail.
Growing up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Silvernail saw that many people in Seattle were being displaced by increasing housing costs and abused by landlords because of a lack of knowledge of their rights as tenants.
For every $100 increase in median rent, there will be a 15 percent increase in homelessness in the metro area and 39 percent increase in homelessness in a nearby rural area.
Having the experience of struggling to find affordable housing, Silvernail understood the hardship and decided to start Be:Seattle and Tenant Rights Bootcamp to offer a helping hand to those who are going through similar situations.
Silvernail holds the workshops at coffee shops because he wants to create a friendly environment so that tenants can relax and have a cup of coffee while acquiring knowledge that might help improve their housing situation.
“The Tenant Rights Bootcamp is a way of helping people to know their rights, to know when something fishy happens,” said Silvernail.
Quick Tips for Tenants.
● Read the lease carefully before signing it
● Always keep copies of every document
● Pay the rent no matter what the landlord does
● Ask landlord for receipt for every deposit and repair
● Provide forwarding address to the landlord when moving out
Be:Seattle is an organization dedicated to empowering Seattle’s vulnerable communities, mostly the homeless population.
Rent in Seattle is much higher than the national median. As of 2015, the median housing cost for Seattle renters is $1,185, while it sits at $928 on the national scale, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
For every $100 increase in median rent, there will be a 15 percent increase in homelessness in the metro area and 39 percent increase in homelessness in a nearby rural area, according to the Journal of Urban Affairs.
“The issue I’ve faced, and I know many of my friends have faced, is finding an affordable place to live here in Seattle,” said Adria Bauer, one of the renters who attended the workshop. “Not everybody can afford $2,000 for a 500-foot studio.”
Working as an inventory and repair specialist, Bauer earns well below 50 percent of Seattle’s median income, which is around $80,000 a year. It leaves Bauer and her boyfriend little choice regarding renting a place. They’re currently renting a room in a house.
Presenters at the workshop explained some of the aspects of housing law that can be difficult to navigate. For example, under Seattle’s Relocation Assistance law, which provides moving assistance for displaced tenants, people are qualified to receive $3,500 relocation assistance if their income is under 50 percent of Seattle’s area median income, according to the Seattle ordinance. But there are limitations that can prevent some people from accessing the benefit.
“If you live in a house with other people, the chances are you’re not going to get that relocation assistance because the city counts everybody’s income together as if you were a family,” Silvernail said.
Bauer would not qualify for assistance, because she lives in shared housing.
“Under the current legislation, that’s ridiculous because none of us can afford to find a place without some sort of assistance,” Bauer said.
Presenters also explained what rights tenants have — and don’t have — when dealing with a landlord.
“There’s no limit to rent increases, and there’s no rent stabilization in Washington of any kind.”
“There’s no limit to rent increases, and there’s no rent stabilization in Washington of any kind,” said Astor Kidane, a former legal intern at the Legal Action Center and one of the presenters of the workshop, and a law school graduate of the University of Washington.
Washington made a state law in 1981 preventing cities from passing rent control laws. As a result, tenants have less protection as landlords raise the rent as high as they want.
There are some policies that do protect tenants from being exploited.
Landlords can’t refuse to rent based on the tenants’ race, said Travis Mann, one of the presenters and a law school graduate of the University of Washington.
“Landlords are also not capable of enforcing some rules they came up with after you sign the lease,” Mann said.
You also have the right to privacy in your home, said Kidane.
“You can refuse entry to your landlord if they have not given you a proper notice,” Kidane said.
Tenants need to know what landlords can and cannot do. It will ensure that landlords don’t take advantage of them, Silvernail said.
“More people need to know about this workshop because if you don’t know your rights, and if something happens, then what are you left with?” said Bauer.
Bauer hopes that there will be more protection for tenants in the future, but until then, it’s important for tenants to learn and make good use of the protections they currently have.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Silvernail said. “And none of the tenant rights that we have now would have come if tenants didn’t demand them.”
Be:Seattle is also working with the Seattle City Council to fight for more protections for tenants in the Seattle area.
For more information or to share your story visit Be:Seattle.
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