Olympia committee seeks to legislate rent-increase notices, limit move-in costs
By Lorilyn C. Lirio
Olympia’s Land Use and Environment Committee wants to bring three rental policy measures to the city council to provide immediate relief to renters.
In a meeting held on Thursday, May 19, Committee chair and City Councilmember Dani Madrone directed the committee staff to develop an ordinance on rent increase notification, limiting move-in costs and pet deposits on rental housing.
Olympia Housing program specialist Christa Lenssen presented her research on rent policies concerning longer notification for rent increases and limiting move-in fees and security deposits in other jurisdictions.
Madrone and committee members Jim Cooper and Clark Gilman wanted to imitate the City of Kenmore’s rent-increase notification policy.
According to Lenssen, Kenmore requires 120 days’ notice for rent increases over 3%; 180 days’ notice for rent increases over 10%.
But Gilman and Cooper wanted a 120 days’ notice for rent increases over 5% and 180 days for 10% rent increases.
Gilman added the committee is trying to mitigate increases beyond the cost of living. “I spoke with somebody yesterday who was leaving one of the downtown apartments because they were just notified of a 28% rent increase. Those are the kinds of stories I’ve been hearing. Those are the things we’re trying to blunt or give people time to prepare for…rent increase that would actually [put] you out of your unit,” Gilman said in the meeting.
Cooper stated his opinion that 3% to 5% is a reasonable rent increase.
Move and security deposits
Lenssen recommended that committee members specify to the city council a limit on security deposits/move-in fees equivalent to one month’s rent like other jurisdictions are implementing.
Her other recommendations include limiting non-refundable move-in fees to 10% of the security deposit. She stated that this is the regulation implemented in Seattle.
She also recommended adopting a preliminary policy setting limits to deposits while working to craft an exception for acceptance of higher barrier tenants with additional deposits or determine the effect on higher barrier tenants after policy implementation.
Gilman said he would supporta regulation limiting deposit and move-in fees to the equivalent of one month of rent. “Not exceeding one-month’s rent is the most important short-term action we can take. And then we continue to work on other issues like re-entry and credit issues.”
Madrone wanted the committee staff to work with the city’s legal team and service providers to find out what the citywould be permitted to do to limit the security deposit and move-in fee.
Gilman is also opposing landlords’ requests for payment of anon-refundable application fee, explaining that many people are competing for a place to rent. He said it is another expense to somebody hunting for an apartment, applying multiple times and paying the application fee each time.
Gilman, Cooper and Madrone also agreed on limiting a pet deposit to 25% of one month’s rent.
Other policy options
Gilman said this might prompt more public conversation about regulations by bringing the three measures forward.
Lenssen presented other policy options to the committee, including the rental housing registry.
She said they could bring staff from several departments – like housing, code enforcement, business licensing and other relevant stakeholders – to make sure that they are looking at all the options available for making decisions.
Gilman shared interest in a rental housing registry, saying it would give the committee better data and what people are being charged in the city.
Other policy options include:
- Relocation assistance – funding options or other action
- Information Required – track the Department of Commerce’s effort to create a landlord portal with legal updates and form templates
- Screening policies – track outcomes of litigation surrounding Seattle’s Fair Chance ordinance and proposed ban of credit history; track what other cities adopt