Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant accused Councilmember Debora Juarez of being beholden to landlords during discussion about renter protection legislation on Monday, Oct. 17.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant accused Councilmember Debora Juarez of being beholden to landlords during discussion about renter protection legislation on Monday, Oct. 17.

Legislation aimed at lessening the financial burden for Seattle renters will head back to a city council committee for more discussion and fine-tuning, after a vote from the full council on Monday.

Despite passing through committee earlier by a 5-0 vote, the bill — which would require landlords to allow tenants to pay fees and deposits over time and cap move-in fees they charge at 10 percent of the first month’s rent — was met with resistance from councilmembers, who said there would be no harm in further refining the measure while retaining an effective date of Jan. 1.

The legislation would limit the security deposit and nonrefundable fees charged by landlords to no more than one month’s rent and allow renters to pay them, and the final month’s rent, over a period of six months.

Ultimately, the full council voted 7-2 to send it to the Energy & Environment Committee, chaired by councilmember Kshama Sawant, who co-sponsored the legislation along with Lisa Herbold. Sawant and Mike O’Brien were the lone councilmembers to vote against the delay.

Sawant blasted her colleagues, taking specific aim at Councilmember Debora Juarez, for being influenced by the landlord lobby and their campaign donations to derail the legislation. She said the council had “ample opportunity” to propose amendments and review the proposal prior to Monday’s decision, especially compared to actions like the North Precinct vote. Sawant singled out Juarez, accusing her of arranging the delay without her knowledge.

Juarez, meanwhile, said she agrees with the legislation’s goals, intents and protections, but felt the enforcement mechanisms were unclear. She said she wants to incentivize landlords to lower move-in costs, and avoid the unintended consequences of raising rents.

“I want this legislation to be able to withstand any legal challenges or concerns from the people it will affect,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by other councilmembers who voted to send the bill back to committee. They reiterated their vote was not a rejection of the legislation. Rather, it was a matter of further strengthening the measure without delaying its implementation.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez said she wanted to see an anti-retaliation provision added to the legislation, along with ensuring that interest on move-in deposits goes back to renters.

That also didn’t sit well with those that testified in favor of the legislation, with representatives from the labor community and low-income housing advocates saying there had already been ample time for discussion prior to the council’s decision.

Steve Williamson of UFCW 21 — the state’s largest private sector union — said he admired the simplicity of the legislation.

“Many of our workers work in this city and can’t afford to live here,” he said. “They need this break.”

Xochitl Maykovich, a community organizer with the Washington Community Action Network, said with all of the discussion about the homelessness crisis, making it easier for renters to pay move-in costs is one way to address the situation. 

“If you pass this, you’re going to help people get into housing,” Maykovich said.

Sawant said the show of support from commenters was indicative of the need for her legislation to be enacted.

“This public testimony today shows how significant it is for tenants that they have this legislation,” she said.

Council president Bruce Harrell called Sawant a leader on tenant issues, as the motion was made to send the legislation back to her committee.

“When this does pass,” Harrell said, “it’s going to be a glorious day.”