Tenant protections approved by Council

This afternoon the Council unanimously approved the proposed ordinance that would delay rent increases for rental properties that don’t meet city building codes. There was a fair amount of theater involved. Council member Sawant, the main sponsor of the bill, had rallied her troops and they showed up in force. The public comment session ran for almost an hour while they all pleaded with the Council to pass the bill — as if they believed that there was some other possible outcome than it passing unanimously (there wasn’t). Sawant herself is at least partly to blame for that: in the email she sent to her followers she said,

While passing the Carl Haglund Law in committee, my amendment to strengthen the bill by giving tenants more time to report violations was approved. But it wasn’t unanimous. We need to turn out on Monday and defend the bill in its strongest form. 

While factually correct, it is highly misleading. As I reported last week, there was one opposing vote, by Council member Burgess, who had offered up a different amendment that also gave tenants more time to report violations. Burgess’ version didn’t offer up quite as much time, because he was trying to create an incentive to get the violations fixed faster. In weighing that versus simply offering tenants as much time as possible, the latter won out. Burgess was hardly opposed to the basic legislation, and in fact offered up some other amendments that strengthened it (and which Sawant voted for). The amendment passed out of committee by a unanimous 5-0 vote, and Burgess voted again for it today. In committee, Sawant thanked Burgess for his support and work on the bill, though for some reason she left him off her thank-you list today. She has done some great things for Seattle workers and tenants, but her style of demonizing people who often don’t deserve it will one day be her undoing, and it has certainly limited her political capital within the ranks of the City Council.

Sawant’s pre-vote victory speech was also an interesting piece of work. She noted that the Rental Housing Association (a landlords’ trade group) has threatened to sue when the bill becomes law, and today she called on her followers to “pack the courtroom” if it does go to trial to let the judge know how the citizens of Seattle feel. Apparently Sawant is unaware of how much judges, who are called on to interpret the law independent of popular opinion, hate it when activists pack their courtroom to try to pressure them to rule in a particular direction.

Sawant’s speech was mostly looking to the future: she announced the next bill in her “tenants’ bill of rights” would be one that caps move-in fees. And she renewed her call for the state Legislature to repeal its statewide prohibition on rent control.

Today was a good day for tenants, and if Sawant has her way, they will see more good days in the months to come.