Anyone renting out a property in Seattle needs to understand the laws and regulations to which they are bound. We see a lot of landlords make mistakes because they don’t know the law. Unfortunately, not knowing about laws and regulations isn’t a defense if a complaint gets filed with the city and these mistakes can be expensive.
Before you begin looking for a tenant and collecting rent checks, make sure you’re familiar with these laws and requirements. Seattle is one of the most restrictive cities in the U.S. when it comes to landlord regulations. While the high rents and rapid appreciation of property values make our region a very attractive place for investors looking for wealth preservation and/or capital growth. If you’re investing in rental property here, you’ll want to work closely with a professional property manager or an attorney.
Seattle Rental Registration and Inspections
The Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) helps ensure that all rental housing in Seattle is safe and meets basic habitability standards and maintenance requirements. Two important things to know about this are:
- You’ll need to complete an initial inspection or declaration and register your property with the City before placing a tenant and renew that registration every two years.
You’ll need to have your rental property inspected by a licensed and city-approved inspector every 5-10 years.
This applies to all rental homes, whether you’ve invested in a single-family home, an apartment building, or a condo unit within a building.
Seattle Rental Increases
There’s been a lot of pressure to implement rent control in Washington and the Seattle City Council is particularly aggressive with its regulations, but a statewide law passed in 1981 prohibits any city in Washington State to mandate rent control.
However, there are regulations on how and when you can raise the rent at your property.
Landlords and owners statewide are required to provide 60 days of notice before any increase.
Just Cause Ordinance and Tenant Relocation Assistance
Unless a Landlord is terminating a lease at the expiration of the specified end date of a term lease or has fully complied with the Seattle Just Cause Ordinance which provides a very limited number of allowable situations when a landlord may terminate a month-to-month tenant occupancy. Non-compliance with the ordinance can result in the landlord not regaining possession of their property and in some cases can incur thousands of dollars in penalties and costs. Some of the limited just cause reasons also require Landlords to pay tenants relocation assistance. The Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance applies to developers and/or landlords with “low-income” tenants and requires landlords to pay relocation fees to those who are displaced from their rental units because of demolition, rehabilitation, change of use, or removal of restrictions placed on subsidized housing.
In many situations, Landlords must provide 90 days of notice before requiring tenants to vacate. If the landlord is relying upon the renovation of the property the landlord the renovation must be substantial enough to require permits from the City planning department and the Landlord must first apply for tenant relocation licenses for residents impacted. Owners who fail to seek a relocation permit are not allowed to begin an eviction action against the tenants, should they not voluntarily move out.
Seattle Winter Eviction Ban
The Seattle City Council passed a law in 2019 that prohibits most evictions from taking place between December 1 and March 1, protecting tenants from becoming homeless during the coldest months of the year.
This does not affect every property investor. If you have smaller buildings with five units or fewer, you may be exempt.
Tenant Screening Requirements in Seattle
Screening for residents is more complicated in Seattle than in other communities throughout Washington State. As a landlord or property owner, you’ll need to put your criteria in writing and make them available to any potential applicants. List anything that might appear in a background screening that would prevent an applicant from being approved. For example, an eviction within the last two years, poor, credit/rental references, etc.
Then, remember these rules:
- You must provide the name and address of the consumer reporting agency you use and provide a free copy to an applicant who is turned down for your property.
- You can only charge the actual cost of screening. Your application fee must match the amount of the credit and background fee.
- If you deny an applicant, you must provide a written statement explaining why.
- Your application and screening cannot request any criminal information and even if a tenant volunteers information you cannot disqualify a tenant who has a criminal record.
- The first-come-first-served law requires you to accept the first qualified applicant. Date and time stamp every application you receive.
These are just a few of the highlights that frame your requirements as a rental property owner in Seattle. There are additional laws that limit how much money a landlord can request at move-in including restrictions to required security deposits, cleaning fees, last month’s rent, fair housing laws that now include service and support animals, required payment plan offerings, and a strict method to evicting tenants.
The ordinances and regulations in Seattle and the surrounding cities and unincorporated county neighborhoods are constantly changing making compliance for small landlords extremely burdensome. We can help you stay ahead of all the regulations and ordinances that need to be balanced when you’re renting out a Seattle property. Contact us at ACRES Property Management. We also manage properties in Tacoma, Burien, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Federal Way, and the surrounding communities in South King and North Pierce Counties.