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Landlords jacking up your rent? This bill would make them pay you

FLICKR PHOTO/Nathan Winder/
The proposed bill would apply to renters making less than eighty percent of area median income.

New protections may be on the way for Seattleites who can no longer afford rent.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant says she'll introduce a bill in the next few months that would require landlords to pay for relocation expenses if rent goes up by more than 10 percent.

The proposal would apply to renters making less than 80 percent of the area's median income. That's nearly $54,000 for a single person.

A similar law has been on the books in Portland for the past year.

To learn how it's playing out in Portland, KUOW’s Kim Malcolm spoke with Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dirk VanderHart.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Interview Highlights", "style": "wide"}]]What was going on in Portland that gave this idea traction?

There had been a rash of rising alarm from some high-profile events here. You would see whole apartment buildings either issue massive rent increases — in one instance it was about 100 percent. Or there were cases where entire buildings were being no-cause evicted because, say the property owner wanted to renovate the whole building so they could charge more rent later on. People were finding themselves increasingly without a lot of options ... This became a big focus here in Portland, to the point that the city actually declared a housing state of emergency.

You've written that this law was controversial. Tell us who opposed it and why.

Opposition came from a number of places. The sort of small-time landlords who might only manage a unit or two came to City Council and said, "This is really going to hurt our cash flow. This isn't a reasonable thing, and not only that, but this is going to push people out of the rental market ... We are going to sell our properties and potentially take them out of the rental market just because we think this is so unfair." So, they were in essence arguing that the council would actually be making the rental market worse.

The law now has been in place for about a year. How has it played out?

Well, that's a matter of debate down here. One of the wrinkles in this law is that Portland does not have a lot of data collection built into it. We don't know when it's been used, how often it's been used, who's been using it — all that sort of stuff. What we do know is that proponents of this legislation say it's helping renters. They say they're not seeing the types of massive no-cause evictions that we had been seeing. And we also know that the realtor folks have anecdotal stories about all these people selling properties off because they just don't want to deal with the hassle of this. The other thing we should note is that tenant advocates are saying they're seeing landlords raise other fees. 

What do you want Seattle to take away from Portland's experience?

One striking takeaway is that the sky has not fallen for landlords. As far as we can tell, many of the folks who have spoken so vociferously against this haven't had their world crumble down. In fact, some of the landlord representatives who helped the city craft and evolve the rules around this policy have come out in begrudging support to say, "We acknowledge that there is a problem here, and this is one of the only tools that Portland currently has to solve the problem." So there is some sense that folks are coming around, though that is not universal.

Year started with KUOW: 2006
Year started with KUOW: 2013