Image provided by The National Associated of Multifamily Law. Url: http://namfl.com/2014/07/29/is-rent-control-becoming-a-thing-of-the-past/
In Washington State, the imposition of rent controls on residential structures is limited to State level governance. Counties, cities and towns are prohibited from regulating rent amounts for privately owned single family, multifamily, and commercial properties. The legislation regulating rent controls in Washington, on a surface level, is incredibly clear. Recently, Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant has argued that the wording of SB 264 (the current legislation regulating rent control in Washington) leaves room for local level governments to establish commercial rent controls. Although SB 264 very clearly prohibits local governments from introducing rent controls for commercial properties it is proceeded by a caption that reads “Controls on rent for residential structures”. Kshama Sawant believes that because the caption of SB 264 does not include the word “commercial” that local governments should not be prohibited from establishing rent controls on commercial properties. Although there is probably no validity to Kshama’s argument, SB 5682 aims to clarify the wording of SB 264 and very clearly prohibit local governments from establishing rent controls on privately owned commercial property.
As someone that believes that rent controls are unproductive and result in problems relating to economic development, I wanted to meet with a Senator from my district (the 48th) and let her know that I supported SB 5682 and to discuss rent control policy. I scheduled a meeting with Senator Patty Kuderer and was ultimately re-rescheduled to meet with her assistant, Jennifer Fay at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. Ms. Fay was amazing, she was very welcoming and accommodating. Surprisingly the topic of rent control took the backseat to the political process in our conversation. She explained that SB 5682 was unlikely to change how the state understands rent controls and that the wording of the current legislation was broad enough that it would be unlikely for local governments to enforce rent controls despite Kshama Sawant’s interpretation. She also explained that because there was prior legislation in place that effectively made SB 5682 unnecessary it was likely that SB 5682 was “sent to committee to die” because it was not worth prioritizing. There was also the issue of political image and as Senator Kuderer was a representative of the Democratic party she voted against the bill because of issues relating to “gentrification”. The vibe I got from this meeting was that the actual policy of rent control took a back seat to political agenda. SB 5682 was simply not going to change how the state regulated rent control and was not worth going against the Democratic vote which would draw attention away from other higher priority issues.
All in all. It was really cool meeting with a representatives assistant from my district. She was very responsive to my concerns and did a great job educating me on the political process. It’s a special experience meeting with someone in the Legislation building!
Washington Research Council Special Report: Rent Control https://researchcouncil.org/files/docs/2016/02/rentcontrolspecialreport.pdf
Washington State Legislature: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=35.21.830