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Serial rent increases drive people out of their homes

Grifters get the money—grandma gets the boot

On Halloween, 2021, six grandmas and one grandpa in a 16-unit apartment community received a notice from their new property management company. It said “120-day renovation notice” and referenced an upcoming rent increase.

The notice was quite a shock, because over this last year, any time maintenance or supervisors for the company showed up, they would go on about how they “loved” the Grandma corner—How they appreciated the way the Grandmas kept the homes in good condition and planted flowers.

The notice encouraged residents to move to one of the company’s newly renovated units. The residents had previously paid $650. Then their monthly rent was raised to $850, and then to $1050—with encouragement to move into the renovated units for $1675.

Grifters—those whose deceptive behavior means they gain, you lose

The Grandmas feel conned. The previous owner said he was “sick to his stomach” that he had sold to the current property owner. It is now managed by InCity Properties based in Seattle. He had no idea that they would simply start charging more for the same apartments, or worse yet, displace the residents.

Some of the residents of the apartment complex were elderly and/or disabled. They had planned on living out their retirement years as neighbors in that community. Within a four-month period of time, their rent had increased by more than $450. They feel unwelcome and know they have a limited amount of time to find a new home in a market where rents are high and continually rising.

According to Washington Landlord/Tenant law, any landlord embarking on renovations can give tenants notice. The property management company could just have told the residents to move out instead of increasing their rent.

Just Cause law extends move-out time when landlords terminate a rental

The day the moratorium ended (October 2021), many tenants in Washington State were given 60-day rent increase notices. Rent hikes ranged from $300 per month to double or triple the rent, as was seen in Spokane.  While the Omicron variant is surging, many with fixed incomes face the stressful and heartbreaking task of finding a new home.

There is a ray of light coming from the efforts of the Tenants Union in Washington State. The group has little money, but a strong sense of community.  The union has worked for years to get protections for tenants in Washington State.  One of their victories is the “Just Cause” law that tripled the amount of time tenants facing a rent hike now have to move—60 days instead of 20.

It has been a grueling year from the pandemic and the Tenants’ Union work is far from done.  Many low-income and retired people will need to come up with hundreds of dollars more in rent each month—or move.  Since there are no rent control laws in Washington State, many wonder how they will make ends meet, and whether they can find a place to live at all.

Rent protection laws like Seattle’s needed in Olympia

As of this writing, the current market rents posted on show the average price for a one-bedroom rental in Thurston is $1764, and $2038 for two bedrooms. The average mortgage payment across the nation is $1556. In other words, with a down payment, what people pay in rent in Thurston County could buy them a home.

These prices are nowhere near the low estimates from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which places the average rent for a one-bedroom at $1076 and a two-bedroom at $1273.  Section 8 voucher holders are not allowed to rent units above these amounts.

Policies to ensure that working families can afford housing

It is clear that Washington State needs rent protection laws. Seattle shows the way, passing two important rent protection bills in September of 2021. The first requires landlords to give 180 days’ (six months) notice for a rent raise.

The second bill protects tenants faced with a rent increase of 10% or more. If they earn 80% or less of the area median income, they are eligible to receive a relocation assistance payment from their landlord. This payment is equivalent to three months of their current rent, an amount intended to help cover high “move-in” costs—a security deposit plus first and last months’ rent, on their new home.

Other states have taken steps to protect their tenants. Oregon passed rent control legislation in 2019.  California followed suit on January 1, 2020. California learned from the rapid rent hikes in Oregon, so they used the prices from March of the previous year as a baseline.

None of the housing built in 2021 is affordable to 47% of Olympia residents

Not only should there be rent safety legislation, there should be more investment in low-income housing. Millions of dollars of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan have been given to cities and counties. As noted in the October issue of WIP, there is little transparency or oversight to show how Thurston County’s $82 million is being used.  Another WIP story from the same issue points out that no new low-income housing has been built using tax-credit financing intended for that purpose.

Shah, Bang Mei lives in Olympia and is currently looking for a safe, affordable place to live.


Average House Payment

Average rent in Thurston County

HUD fair market values

Seattle renter protections

Oregon and California rent protection

Tenants Union of Washington State

Works in Progress

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