Feb 8, 2024 - Politics

Bill to cap rent hikes moves ahead in Washington Legislature

Illustration of a dollar sign made out of house keys.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Washington lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit annual rent increases to 7% for many rental properties around the state.

Why it matters: Average rents in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area nearly doubled from 2010 to 2020, according to a city staff analysis of census data.

  • In an October U.S. Census Bureau survey, more than 100,000 Washington residents reported their monthly rent had increased by $500 or more in the past year.

What's happening: The proposal to limit rent increases passed out of the state House Appropriations Committee Saturday and could soon get a vote on the House floor.

  • The annual cap on rent hikes wouldn't apply to new buildings that have opened in the past 10 years, to address concerns about potentially stifling new housing construction.

What they're saying: "Across Washington, people are struggling to pay the rent," state Rep. Emily Alvarado (D-Seattle) told a state House committee last month.

  • She said people like child care providers and grocery store workers "can't keep up" as their housing costs rise faster than their incomes.
  • "Then they have to move farther and farther from their jobs," Alvarado said.

Between the lines: Alvarado said her bill "is not rent control" in part because it would allow for bigger rent increases when a tenant leaves a unit, letting landlords raise the unit's rent beyond the 7% annual cap.

Of note: Some properties would be exempt if the owner also lives there — including duplexes where the owner occupies half of the building.

  • Public and affordable housing developments would also be exempt.

Plus: The measure would make it so late fees on rent payments couldn't exceed 1.5% of a tenant's total monthly rent.

  • The combined cost of move-in fees and security deposits could equal no more than one month's rent.

The other side: Landlords and property owners largely oppose the bill.

  • Riley Benge, lobbyist for Washington Realtors, said the new regulations would cause many property owners to take their rental units off the market, worsening the state's housing shortage.
  • "This bill would apply pressure to an already very stressed housing market," Benge told House Appropriations Committee members late last month.

What's next: The measure faces a Tuesday deadline to get a vote in the state House.

  • Even if it clears that hurdle, it may not get a warm reception in the state Senate, where a similar measure failed to receive a committee vote before a key deadline late last month.

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