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Landlords Sue To Overturn Seattle's Cap On Move-In Fees

Will James
Leaders of the Rental Housing Association of Washington speak at a news conference on May 30, 2017, including External Affairs Director Sean Martin (at podium) and attorney Josh Whited of Eglick & Whited PLLC

The city of Seattle is facing a lawsuit from a group of landlords challenging one of the city’s most recent protections for tenants. 

Leaders of the Rental Housing Association of Washington say the City Council violated the state constitution's ban on rent control when it capped the amount of money landlords can charge for a security deposit and other move-in fees.

Lawyers representing the association filed the lawsuit Tuesday in King County Superior Court. 

The Seattle City Attorney's office will defend the law "vigorously," a spokeswoman said. 

The City Council voted six months ago to cap the cost of a security deposit plus non-refundable move-in fees to the cost of one month's rent. The law also allows tenants to pay move-in costs over a six-month payment plan. 

Landlords say those regulations and other recent laws make them less willing to take risks on prospective tenants. 

"We could go to somebody and say, 'Hey, you know, you've made some mistakes in the past, but we'd like to offer you the place but with a higher security deposit,'" said William Shadbolt, a landlord and vice president of the Rental Housing Association of Washington's board. "Now, we just can't do that." 

"I have to look at things more as a business than look at some of our tenants as people," said CC Conklin, who also sits on the association's board and owns two buildings in Lower Queen Anne.  

Tenants' advocates hailed the law when it passed, saying the high cost of moving into a new apartment was a significant barrier to finding safe and adequate housing. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.