Be:Seattle founder Devin Silvernail gives a presentation.
Be:Seattle founder Devin Silvernail gives a presentation.

Be: Seattle partnered with Legal Action Center for their second-to-last winter Tenant Rights Bootcamp session last Wednesday at the Hollow Earth Radio. The bootcamp was broadcasted live on the radio and sponsored by SAFE in Seattle (Standing Against Foreclosure & Eviction).

Tenant Rights Bootcamps aim to educate Seattleites on their rights as tenants in the new reality of constant rent increases and displacement across the city, and particularly in the Central District.

Be:Seattle founder Devin Silvernail walked through the history of tenant rights laws passed over the last few decades during the March 22 bootcamp.

Silvernail highlighted the 1968 Open Housing Ordinance that says landlords can’t discriminate based on a tenant’s race and or skin color. The ordinance was later expanded to include no discrimination based on marital status, gender identification and religious beliefs.

Silvernail also celebrated the 2016 legislation spearheaded by the Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and initiated by local activist groups that puts a cap on move-in fees.

Then Beth Leonard, staff attorney at the Legal Action Center, took the floor to cover the most important tenant rights, providing tips on how to avoid unlawful eviction or the withholding of security deposits.

The most important thing a tenant can do is read the lease documents prior to signing and get all correspondence between them and the landlord in writing; preferably a physical letter with a date stamp.

“The biggest questions I get from my clients is, ‘Can I not pay my rent if the repairs are not made?’ Do not withhold your rent,” Leonard said. “The landlord will have the right to evict you and get away with it. However, landlords can’t shut off your utilities, hold your property, or change the locks if you are not paying rent.”

Leonard recommended contacting the Department of Construction and Inspections if a person receives a notice of eviction, to make sure it complies with the laws. SDCI can also be contacted if someone is having any other problems with their landlord.

“We want to keep Seattle an affordable place for everybody,” Silvernail said. “We want to make sure that if you are barista, a contract worker or a community organizer, that you can afford to live in Seattle and find a home.”

The latest wins for tenant rights are thanks to community organizing and petitioning the city council. They include the Carl Haglund Law that says landlords can’t increase the rent if the building is deemed uninhabitable and the June 2016 law that allows a resident to apply and get the eviction erased from their record if it was turned away in court.

“In case you always thought that people getting together couldn’t really accomplish these things, here’s an example of people getting together and managing to put a rent transparency on a ballot for voting this year,” Leonard said, “which if it passes, you’ll get that transparency and get to know why the rent had increased. That’s the power of getting together like this.”

SAFE, a community organization that stands against foreclosures and eviction through activism movements and eviction blockades, presented its case at the bootcamp.

“Unfortunately, the law does not work in our favor and we have to recognize it,” said Cliff Cawthon of SAFE. “We’re facing landlords who don’t want to rent to people of color and low-income people. We were a part of the coalition that brought on the Haglund law and the cap on move-in fees. We need to go forward and draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Housing is a human right!’ What SAFE does is we use direct action, grassroots advocacy, building alliances with legal organizations in order to push policies statewide.”

According to Cawthon, the Central District has gone from being 70 percent black more than 40 years ago to less than 10 percent today. Economic eviction is happening and is changing the look of the neighborhoods around town.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of those around Seattle. People are being economically forced out,” Silvernail said. “Landlords use rent increases to force the tenants out and make the apartment nicer and then charge even more for the new tenants.”

SAFE and Be: Seattle are encouraging people to join the movements and help fight the ever increasing rents and injustice happening around Seattle.

Be: Seattle is planning to run the bootcamps through the end of the year and is currently looking for new locations. A special bootcamp with YouthCare is being planned for the end of April to teach tenant rights to the population they serve.

“This is really helpful, especially for people who don’t have enough experience renting,” said Tari Nelson-Zagar, a south Seattle resident. “I’ve learned the lessons the hard way being a renter. [The bootcamp] gives basic skills on how to pay the bill and defend your rights.”

To learn more about the Tenant Rights Bootcamps and find new locations, visit www.seattletenantbootcamps.org