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Rent control in Seattle by this summer, tenant advocates say

caption: Homes near the intersection of N. 35th St. and Meridian Ave. N. are shown on Friday, August 18, 2017, in Wallingford.
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Homes near the intersection of N. 35th St. and Meridian Ave. N. are shown on Friday, August 18, 2017, in Wallingford.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Tenant advocates in Seattle are pushing for rent control and significant advance notice about rent hikes.

The Seattle Renters' Commission presented its annual plan on Tuesday to a city council committee, chaired by Councilmember Kshama Sawant.

The group recommends that Seattle adopt a rent control mechanism within the next three months. They say the City Council should look to Quebec, in Canada, as an example of rent control policies that work well.

The Seattle Renters Commission also recommends that landlords give more advance to tenants before hiking rents. They propose a 180 day notice, for any increase above 10 percent.

Councilmember Sawant is expected to propose a rent control bill — even though state law doesn't allow it currently.

Renters Commission member Devin Silvernail says the city could spark a change statewide.

"Seattle could be the city to start this" he says. "Not only is it going to send a message to Olympia that there is a need and want for this in the largest city in the state, but we're hoping this is going to have a ripple effect all across the state."

Opponents of rent control say it would discourage new development, and give landlords less incentive to repair existing buildings.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington represents landlords. In a statement, the group argues that rent control hasn't worked in San Francisco, where rents have sky-rocketed. The group says it would like to see tax benefits for landlords who do keep prices low.

As for notifying tenants of a rent hike, Seattle law requires up to 60 days notice before an increase greater than 10 percent.

But Silvernail says that can leave tenants with little time to move or increase their income if needed.

"I tell renters, it's just an illustration but it's absolutely true, that in 30 days your rent can go up by less than 10 percent, but in 60 days your landlord could raise your rent by a million dollars if they wanted to. That's absolutely legal."

The City Council considers recommendations from each city commission, but has no existing proposal on rent control or advance notice.

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