Move-in fees legislation back in committee tomorrow

Tuesday morning the Energy and Environment Committee meets to take up one item: Council member Sawant’s proposed ordinance to cap move-in fees and require landlords to let tenants pay some move-in fees in installments.

Back at the end of September, Sawant rushed an incomplete version of the bill through her committee, despite concerns from some of her colleagues, to try to get it enacted before the Council turned all of its attention to the budget for two months. But when it came up for vote three weeks later in the full Council meeting on October 17th, her colleagues voted to refer it back to her committee for more work — over her loud protests and accusations that they were beholden to corporate interests. After being challenged by Sawant to do so, several Council members listed specific issues they wanted to explore further. Among those issues, Juarez said that she wanted to look at incentives for landlords to lower costs, as well as to review the enforcement scheme. Johnson wanted to discuss the bill further with the Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), which would be responsible for enforcing  the ordinance (and which Johnson’s committee oversees). Gonzalez said that she wanted to add an anti-retaliation clause, and clarify landlords’ responsibility to deposit the funds in an escrow account.

Today Sawant put out the call to her supporters to show up in force again tomorrow, claiming that two “conservative” groups representing landlords convinced her colleagues to delay the final vote last month, and that the Council members want “one more chance to water it down.” One of those groups, the Rental Housing Association of Washington, has put out its own call to its members to show up to tomorrow’s committee meeting as well. Fun!

According to a Council staff memo, there are six amendments that have been offered. This morning in the weekly Council Briefing, Sawant stated that she was in favor of all six. They are:

  1. From Sawant herself and Herbold, an amendment making several technical corrections and clarifying the language in the bill. The changes run for five pages in the memo.
  2. From Gonzalez, adding anti-retaliation provisions.
  3. From Gonzalez, adding a reference to the state statute requiring refundable fees to be deposited into an escrow account.
  4. From Juarez, creating a tiered enforcement scheme.
  5. From Juarez, removing the installment plan requirement if the security deposit and non-refundable move-in fees do not exceed 25% of the first month rent and if payment of last month’s rent is not required — an incentive to landlords for setting lower fees.
  6. From Johnson, establishing that the Director of SDCI has rulemaking authority over enforcement of the provision of the return of security deposits.

In other words: Herbold, Johnson, Gonzalez and Juarez followed up on exactly the issues they said they would, and the bill will be much improved because of it. There’s certainly the chance that a Council member will offer a last-minute amendment that would “water it down” or create a “loophole,” but so far there is no indication that anyone will do that. The timing of the bill was unfortunate in that it ran into the two-month budget development process and was delayed, but the legislative process did what it was intended to do: it made good law by forcing deliberation.

And yet, Sawant was still bullying her colleagues on the Council this afternoon, after stating that she supports their amendments.

I would claim to be baffled by why Sawant continues to paint her Council colleagues so negatively (and lying and distorting in the process), but I’m not at all surprised. It’s a tactic she’s used repeatedly: she invents enemies and demonizes them in order to keep the supporters of her populist movement fired up. Ironically, she’s in good company: it’s a tactic straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.

In the case of the move-in fee legislation, employing this level of demagoguery certainly wasn’t necessary to get the ordinance passed. When it comes back in front of the full Council, it’s likely to be adopted unanimously as Council President Harrell suggested it would last month. It’s a solidly progressive measure — and a really good idea — that would have sailed through the City Council even without Sawant’s supporters showing up en masse. Either Sawant is clumsily overplaying her hand, or as I suggested in a previous post, she is intentionally trying to conjure what looks like a hard-fought victory as part of continuing to build her political movement through a series of “wins.”  If it’s the latter, then she is building her political machine upon the goodwill of her fellow Council members. They are smart people, and surely see this for what it is. I expect that their patience for Sawant’s name-calling and other antics is wearing thin, and that they are none too fond of being involuntary cogs in her political machine.

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One thought on “Move-in fees legislation back in committee tomorrow”

  1. Interesting column today – seems like a short-sighted strategy, to antagonize her fellow Council members … I guess we shall see if there’s any push-back?

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