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Landlords file lawsuit against Seattle law that caps move-in fees

The Rental Housing Association of Washington filed suit on Tuesday claiming Seattle’s new cap on move-in fees for rentals is a form of rent control, which is unlawful in Washington State. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - The Rental Housing Association of Washington filed suit on Tuesday claiming Seattle’s new cap on move-in fees for rentals is a form of rent control, which is unlawful in Washington State.

The law, which passed unanimously in December, requires landlords to offer a six-month installment plan for tenants to pay off first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit and any nonrefundable fees.

It puts a cap on those fees and security deposit which can not exceed the first month’s rent.

The intend is to make it easier for renters to avoid huge upfront move-in costs, which city councilmembers have argued are preventing people from finding housing.

“This city council has never missed a chance to lambaste, demonize and finally hold small landlords for problems they did not create,” said Sean Flynn, President of the Rental Housing Association of Washington.

The Association’s bio says it represents 5,400 rental housing owners statewide, with over 4,000 owning units in Seattle, and of those owners 88 percent own less than four rental units.

“I hear from people every day that say, 'you know what, I don’t' want to be a rental housing owner in the city of Seattle anymore and I’m planning to sell,' ” said Chris Benis. “And I’m one of them, I’m going to sell."

Benis is an attorney and heads up the RHA's legal defense fund and is also co-owner, along with his children, of a six-unit apartment building in Seattle.

He said other landlords are considering selling their properties as well because Seattle’s new rental law is making it too risky to do business.

“With this type of regulation, I don't think I can run that business in a way I need to, in order to accomplish my objectives and protect myself,” said Benis.

Rather than renters paying all move-in fees up front, all landlords - except ones living in a rental they also occupy - must offer a six-month installment plan for renters. The RHA claims that makes it easy for a renter to move out after just a few months and not pay up what is owed.

“It’s disappointing that RHA is choosing to block a solution to our housing crisis,” said Xochitl Maykovich, Political Organizer for the Washington Community Action Network, which co-drafted the legislation.

“The drastic power imbalance between landlords and tenants is part of the reason why we need legislation like the move-in fee legislation,” said Maykovich.

The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court and is asking for a permanent injunction to overturn the restrictions on move-in fees.

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