Jan 18, 2023 - Real Estate

Washington lawmakers want to curb "bonkers" rent hikes

Illustration of apartment doorbells with an intercom shaped like a dollar sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In an attempt to curb what they describe as runaway housing prices statewide, Democrats in Washington's Legislature are debating whether to limit annual rent increases to no more than 7% for most residential buildings.

Driving the news: Two proposals introduced Tuesday at the state Capitol both aim to cap rent increases so that landlords in Washington couldn't raise rent by more than the rate of inflation in most cases.

  • That inflation adjustment would be capped at 7% a year — although landlords could raise rents by more if they made substantial improvements to their property in a given year, or if their buildings are less than a decade old.

By the numbers: Supporters of the measures said that the bills are necessary because recent rent increases have far outpaced the growth in personal income, as well as the rate of inflation. And the problem is not confined to Seattle and the Puget Sound region.

  • In the Tri-Cities area, for instance, the average apartment cost $764 to rent in September 2010, compared to $1,316 in September 2022, according to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington.
  • Rental prices in Spokane County nearly doubled over the same 12-year period, per the center's data.
  • Inflation, meanwhile, rose only about 35% during that time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What they're saying: "The increases in rent prices are absolutely just bonkers. I say that as a technical term," state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau (D-Tacoma), who is sponsoring one of the bills, said at a Tuesday press conference.

The other side: The Rental Housing Association of Washington, a group representing landlords, opposes the measures.

  • Chester Baldwin, a lobbyist for the group, told Axios that the restrictions would cause more building owners to take their units off the market, decreasing the total housing supply and making prices worse.

Between the lines: The state legislation wouldn't repeal Washington's longtime ban on local cities and counties adopting their own rent control ordinances, which has been in place for more than three decades.

  • That statewide ban has been heavily criticized by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, among others.

Yes, but: Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda told Axios Seattle that she supports the statewide approach introduced Tuesday, even though it wouldn't allow Seattle to adopt its own citywide rent control policy.

What we're watching: Efforts to restrain the rate of rent increases have been proposed in Olympia before, but haven't advanced — and it's unclear whether this year will be any different.

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