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Could Seattle be the key to legalizing rent control statewide?

In this April 30, 2020, file photo, the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline are shown against a blue sky as seen from Kerry Park.
Ted S. Warren
In this April 30, 2020, file photo, the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline are shown against a blue sky as seen from Kerry Park.
Updated: August 2, 2023 at 10:38 AM PDT
The Seattle City Council rejected Councilmember Kshama Sawant's rent control proposal on Tuesday.

Sawant introduced the bill in June in an effort to push state lawmakers to make rent control legal.

The limits on rent hikes in Seattle would have only gone into effect if a longtime state ban on such regulations were lifted. Opponents argued the plan would have discouraged new housing development.

In 1981, Washington state made rent control illegal. Now, in one of her last campaigns before leaving office, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is hoping to pass local legislationshe hopes will lead to that state ban being repealed.

Under Sawant’s proposal, a Seattle landlord would not be able to increase rent more than the rate of inflation.

"The legislation that I've put forward, covers every rental home, regardless of size, regardless of type. And regardless of the date of when the building was built," Sawant said in a recent interview with KNKX.

Even after a tenant moves out, a landlord would be barred from astronomically raising rents. The legislation would only go into effect when and if the state law banning rent control is repealed.

That ban went into effect after a ballot initiative to enact rent control failed in 1980. Urged by developers, lawmakers in Olympia then passed a bill that barred any city in the state from regulating rents. Legislators have tried repealing the ban in the past but haven’t gained enough traction.

Sawant said getting the Seattle City Council to pass this trigger bill is the first step in putting pressure on state legislators to prioritize rent control. But Sawant also admitted she's received a tepid response from Washington state lawmakers so far — including Democrats.

The issue of rent control is more relevant than ever. In 2019, for the first time in 100 years, more than half of Seattleites were estimated to be renters. Sawant said in the past she heard skepticism from constituents about rent control, but said calls for regulations have increased in recent years.

"Even that has changed dramatically. Actually, the support for rent control has only grown because the housing affordability crisis has grown," Sawant said.

Sawant has sponsored a slew of new laws meant to help protect renters in recent years. Earlier this year, the Seattle City Council approved her proposalthat caps the late fees landlords charge on top of rent to $10 a month.

Another recent rule requires landlords to provide tenants with six months notice of a rent increase. Landlords must financially help low-income tenants who relocate due to a rent increase of 10% or more. Low-income tenants facing evictions also now have a right to an attorney.

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.

On Wednesday, Sawant is holding a listening session on rent control at All Pilgrims Church in Capitol Hill at 6 p.m.

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