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Seattle City Council approves cap for late rent fees at $10 per month

A broad flight of stairs next to a stone wall that has "Seattle City Hall" carved into it.
Daniel X. O'Neil
CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
A photo of the stairs leading up to Seattle City Hall from 4th Ave taken May 12, 2010.

In a vote of 7 to 2, Seattle City Council passed a bill Tuesday that will limit fees for paying rent late to $10 a month. The new legislation now heads to the mayor for signature.

Last month, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced legislationthat would cap late rent fees at $10 per month. Other council members proposed a late fee cap of $50 or 1.5% of the monthly rent, whichever is less.

The vote on Tuesday considered whether to cap the late rent fees, and at what amount.

Sawant said she and others received hundreds of emails in response to the proposal. Some renters say they’ve been charged as much as $500 for being a few days late on rent.

A 2018 studyby the King County Bar Association and Seattle Women’s Commission notes that more than half of those who have faced eviction owed one month or less on rent.

At a recent city council meeting, Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis voiced his support for a 1.5% late rent fee. He considered the sliding scale percentage a better policy, in part because he didn't want the city to have to revisit a set dollar amount.

However, during Tuesday's council meeting, which included a public comment period, Lewis appeared to change his mind and ultimately voted to approve the $10 per month cap.

One resident, who helps hold vigils for homeless people who have died, voiced her opposition to the higher cap at a previous council meeting.

“There is a direct correlation between the names of evicted people and the names on the homeless death list. You can help save lives,” she told council members.

The cities of Burien and Auburn have already capped late rent fees at $10 per month.

Some landlords objected to the proposal saying higher late fees serve as an incentive to get tenants to pay rent on time. Sawant disagreed.

"Renters don't need any other incentive than the fact that if they don't pay their rent on time, their credit score gets impacted. They have to end up paying a much more, in terms of a hefty price, in damaging their rental record history," Sawant said.

Sawant has sponsored a slew of new laws meant to help protect renters in recent years. One new rule requires landlords to provide tenants with six months notice of a rent increase. Low-income tenants facing evictions also now have a right to an attorney.

Another law says landlords must financially help low-income tenants who relocate due to a rent increase of 10% or more. In 2016, a bill Sawant sponsored cappedthe move-in fee landlords charge renters. The law also gives renters the right to pay for such fees in installments.

In a statement ahead of the vote, Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said she also supports capping late rent fees at $10.

"If a household is already having trouble paying their rent on time, adding hefty late fees only exacerbates their inability to pay, increases housing instability, makes it harder to find housing in the future, and could increase the chance for more folks to fall into homelessness," she said.

Seattle City Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen voted against the bill.

Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to