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Friday, January 18, 2008

Condo Conversion Cap Fails Again…

posted by on January 18 at 13:59 PM

..but there is some good news.

Low-income housing advocates scored two big wins in the state house today. Rep. Eric Pettigrew’s (D-37, South Seattle) bill to prevent landlords from discriminating against Section 8 tenants passed 6337. The senate version, sponsored by Sen. Adam Kline (D-37, South Seattle) will get a hearing next week.

And Rep. Jeannie Darneille’s (D-27, Tacoma) bill to prevent cities from using building zoning laws to prevent landlords from renting out to special-needs tenants (domestic-violence victims, recently homeless renters, tenants with drug problems, sex offenders) passed the house 97-0. The Republicans liked the bill because it was seen as clearing out the red tape for landlords.

For more details on both bills, check this Slog post from earlier this week.

As for condo conversion, the house passed a bill that would guarantee compensation and guarantee the amount of time a displaced tenant had to move out. Bill sponsor Rep. Maralyn Chase’s (D-32, Shoreline) amendment to up the compensation from $500 to the equivalent of three months rent also passed. However, her amendment to up the time tenants had to move from 120 days to 180 days did not.

The big disappointment was this: Chase’s amendment to give cities the right to cap conversions on buildings where 50 percent of the rentals were low-income failed.

Chase says the cap amendment failed because people believed she was calling for a statewide moratorium. Despite the bad news on the cap, she called the 94-3 vote a “huge victory” because the legislation will force people to confront issues of homelessness. “53 percent of the people in shelters are children,” she says. “What are we doing to our families?”

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Condo conversion/eviction relief is such a joke. My old building is being torn down for town homes, so the landlord just raised everyone's rent 500 bucks, forcing everyone to move. Including two older gay men on disability who have been living with AIDS for over 20 years. Why would he pay us relocation costs when he can just do that?

Until someone (anyone? Rasmussen? Bueller?) has the fortitude to enact real rent control, Seattle and Washington renters will continue to get fucked.

Seattle is just absolutely pathetic in how it treats its renters.

Posted by john | January 18, 2008 2:16 PM

The conversions all happened already, so the bill was too late anyway. The process is in reverse now, it's going from condos to apts.

Posted by Andrew | January 18, 2008 2:18 PM

Maybe the condo conversion cap might have some value many years from now, when the next bubble happens, but, as others said, it's too late to matter. In a market that looks like this, who would convert? In fact, the trend may be going the other way.

Posted by tsm | January 18, 2008 2:19 PM

Good god. Rent control? Are you serious?

Posted by happy renter | January 18, 2008 2:25 PM

Free Seattle!

It can't choose to have public elections.

Its taxing authority is regressive and extremely constrained by state law.

It can't choose to have rent control.

It can't choose to put a moratorium on condo conversions.

We're handcuffed by corporate lobbyists in Olympia even when we have a Democratic supermajority!

Posted by Trevor | January 18, 2008 2:28 PM

rent control causes other problems that i think are worse than high rent. shortages of apartments due to strict zoning, dilapidated apartments because a loss of revenue to improve apartments, a corrupt system of getting an apartment through connections, lack of new people moving in to the area despite having more to offer economically.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 2:36 PM

yeah you get dilapidated apartments, you get crowding in the aprtment space. but the people willing to live in them, the young artists, writers, etc. are what makes a city great.

Throughout most of the time NYC has been the center of western, and thus global, culture its artists and visionaries were living in rent controlled apartments.

The worst part though, would be that very few apartent buildings would get built if they could be forced into rent-control.

Posted by Andrew | January 18, 2008 2:42 PM

Should I be afraid of a legislative bill that passes 97-0?

Posted by Gay Seattle | January 18, 2008 2:49 PM

Andrew, NYC has so many more people, period, that it wouldnt be hard to have a huge pool of artists etc. rent control isn't want makes a great arts scene, it is simply having a larger amount of artists upping their game to compete against other artists. when there is no competition between artists you wind up with stupid glass art.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 2:56 PM

and before anyone comes and says they have more artists because of rent control, i'm going to point out that any city with or without rent control that has that many people will have a better arts scene.

also, who funds the arts scene? those upper east siders, thats who.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 2:59 PM

It's silly all this talk of low income this and low income that, and affordable this and affordable that. Hell I want to live in a Central Park West Penthouse apartment (NYC baby). But ya know what? I don't because I can't afford it. And ya know what else? Someone else CAN afford it, so it's really and truly affordable, just not for me. Life is like that. And here's one more kick in the butt for the whining class, I bought in a part of Seattle that was not White, no views, crappy, not hip, not gay, really blands-hood. Now it's hip, Gay, and not affordable for even me. Look outside your box and you'll find affordable all over the place.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | January 18, 2008 3:00 PM

To echo #7's point, it is not just my opinion that the only reason that there is any culture remaining in San Francisco at all is because of rent control. Manhattan's rent control has been more or less phased out over the last couple of decades and, um, has anyone been Manhattan lately?

And frankly I've lived in just as many dilapidated non-rent controlled apartments as I have rent-controlled. That is really a non-argument - and making it easy for tenants to take their landlords to task for negligence is actually part of rent control, too.

There are much looser rent controls that can be put in place to avoid the Moscow of the West II label (although anything approaching San Francisco's laws would be applauded by most of the people I know), but the fact that tenants in Seattle have nothing more than a 60-day notice to vacant the premises as "protection" is just horrible.

Seeing people being forced from apartments that they have lived in for 25 years by a typo-laden "To: occupant" letter is disgusting.

Posted by john | January 18, 2008 3:02 PM

tell them sargon! jodah made this point yesterday; everyone that is pissed that they can't afford a certain hood anymore most likely paid more than the previous people were willing to pay to live there and thus they usurped others by making it less affordable.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 3:03 PM

@ 11 Amen.

It's called a market fucking economy. Yes, this means that prices are reflective of where people have the highest desire to live. Perhaps instead of whining about your rents and owners of apartment building "converting" (they own the fucking thing, do you understand that?? They could bulldoze it and leave an empty lot if they DOESN'T BELONG TO YOU) you should buy something for yourself. Wait, you can't afford it? With all that PBR and vintage clothing you're buying, surely you have money left over for a down payment, no?

There are lots of places you can live in Seattle that are cheaper than what's desirable at the moment. I'd own a house in Cap Hill, but guess what, I'd love to live on Lake Washington, but it's not affordable for me. I'm thinking of going and knocking on some of the doors down there though and asking if I can pay a fraction of their mortgage to them in the form of "rent" and move in. Think they'll go for it?

Posted by Bill | January 18, 2008 3:07 PM

People seem a little confused on how rent control works. First of all, it doesn't apply to new construction. In San Francisco, rent control only applies to multi-unit, pre-1960 (don't quote me on that year, it's close though) construction. Secondly, once you move out of a rent controlled building, the landlord is free to set whatever price they wish for the next tenant.

That is why it works. You agree to a certain price when you move in, and maintain a reasonable expectation that you will get to live there for the price you agreed upon, with small, yearly increases permitted (I think 3% is the rule here). It hasn't led to dilapidated buildings or overcrowded apartments. Lazy landlords and high prices are responsible for that, just like in non-rent controlled places.

If your landlord wants you out of there to sell you unit, your landlord will pony up the cash to make it worth everyone's time.

Condo conversion here is a little more complicated, officially based on a lottery system, but the effect of that can be a little gray when buildings go TIC.

In Seattle, I once woke up to a note in my mailbox alerting my rent had almost doubled (come to think of it, this happened at least twice). This is the norm in Seattle. Laws have been skewed in favor of developers there for forever. It's hard to imagine sweeping reforms in WA state, but it sure needs them.

On the flip side of all this of course, is the nightmare, impossible to get rid of tenant scenario, which can also royally suck for not just the property owner, but good tenants who have to share walls with them.

Posted by Dougsf | January 18, 2008 3:32 PM

Bill #14 - rent control doesn't apply to single family homes in any market I'm aware of.

Even in a free market economy, there needs to be regulation.

Posted by Dougsf | January 18, 2008 3:42 PM

Want to solve the problem in Seattle?

Build 40-100 story inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings with some greenspace around them.

Half measures won't work.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 18, 2008 3:48 PM


This is true, my ranting about SFH was just meant to illustrate that market conditions impact all living situations. I don't hold any hostility against regulation, just the folks who seem to think they're entitled to it.

Posted by Bill | January 18, 2008 3:52 PM

bill @ 18:
"I don't hold any hostility against regulation, just the folks who seem to think they're entitled to it."

yeah, those people suck. all expecting to be treated fairly and legally and shit like that, what with those silly contracts and laws and renters rights etc. screw them.

Posted by toolbox monitor | January 18, 2008 4:21 PM
Secondly, once you move out of a rent controlled building, the landlord is free to set whatever price they wish for the next tenant.

That is why it works.

Really? So when I move into a place, I get to pay twice the natural market price for my apartment, to compensate for the previous owner and the other people in the building, who have lived there for several years and are paying 2/3 the natural market price?

And so, instead of threatening me with a big rent hike on my place, a landlord can threaten me with the alternative of taking a big rent hike on another place instead?

Yay, rent control!

Posted by tsm | January 18, 2008 4:59 PM

I think Lenin would have called the apologists for the excesses of capitalism (in which your so-called "free market" developers get to externalize their costs and enjoy a host of subsidies - hidden and obvious) on Slog "Useful Idiots".

And he would have been right.

Posted by Mr. X | January 18, 2008 5:35 PM

Just to clarify - Useful Idiots for capital.

Posted by Mr. X | January 18, 2008 5:41 PM

#20 - I suppose that's sorta kinda true, but rent control or none, that's not exactly how it works.

Vacant apartments set at twice the market value sit empty until they come down in price. If they're getting snatched up, you're looking at the market value for that unit. If you think that's too much to pay, you don't take the unit. It's irrelevant if the previous tenant of ten years payed 1/2 that.

Right now, the housing crash in CA driving rents up in the city to record highs (rents are best when people can afford to buy, when home ownership is out of reach, occupancy rates never dip to drive the prices down), and I'm glad as hell my landlord can't ask me to vacate for someone that wants to pay what he could be getting for the unit.

Rent control works. it's not perfect, but it "more fair" than the alternative. Unfortunately it's appropriate for some cities - Seattle needs more renters rights - and unnecessary in others. Laws have to be amended at the state level, which could be really tricky for Washington.

Posted by Dougsf | January 18, 2008 6:15 PM


I'm afraid your logical and thorough response may fall on deaf ears - evidently the self-styled "progressives" who read the Stranger are actually honorary members of the BIAW and the Rental Housing Association (which are right-wing developer/landlord lobbies that are two of the biggest in Washington State).

These supply-side density advocates just don't do nuance like that. Sorry!

And how depressing is THAT? Ick.

Posted by Mr. X | January 18, 2008 6:28 PM

Boy, Bellevue Ave, you sure don't know much about artists, do you?

Artists, as a general rule, are probably one of the most collaborative population sub-sets you could possibly encounter. What "competition" there may be between them, is - surprise, surprise - market-driven, not artist-driven. Artists will bend over backwards to help each other in times of need, often at the expense of their own personal well-being.

And of course, the inescapable irony is that developers ride on the backs of artists by promoting "vibrant urban lifestyles" or similar Marketing B.S. to prospective customers, while at the same time driving out the very artists who created the "atmosphere" that they use to sell their units in the first place.

Believe me, there's plenty of "stupid glass art" in Manhattan, just as there is in L.A., London, Paris, Rome, and Shanghai; large populations don't automatically equal superior art. In point of fact, they tend to be magnets for mediocrity, simply because middling artists tend to possesss exactly the sort of Philistinish mind-set that makes them think they're superior, simply because they produce and display their work in a big city.

Posted by COMTE | January 18, 2008 6:59 PM

I gave up on trying to understand artists a long time ago, when art became a commodity. if artists were so good at collaboration then why cant they work together on securing work space?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 9:57 PM

as for mr.x, being called a useful idiot by someone who quotes lenin for inspiration is a compliment.

toolbox, you're an idiot because you dont understand how rental contracts work. it is illegal for landlord or renter to break the lease, but once that lease is up why can't the landlord do what he pleases?

unfortunately i think everyone who thinks bashing of rent control means allowing landlords to break leases is misunderstanding what all the economically inclined people here are talking about. the landlord kicking someone out while under lease is a far cry from increasing the rent on a new lease.

rent control works at keeping current residents in and new residents out. of course people in provincial seattle want that.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 10:03 PM

and there is a difference between regulation such as making jumbo loans a certain amount, saying that leases need to be made and held in good faith, etc etc. and then there are people who complain about not being able to afford something because other people can afford it and the market reflects that shift.

and putting buildings under a strict rent control where rent price can only increase x% per year reduces incentive for new developments and thus housing stock, or prices them above what any poor person could afford when the lease expires.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 18, 2008 10:08 PM

bellevue ave:
by saying: "allowing landlords to break leases is misunderstanding what all the economically inclined people here are talking about."
i'm sure you have the renters best interest in mind... not that you suck off the developers whims at any given chance or anything. no, not you, 'cause you are a beacon of the economically inclined, and we all here love you for that.
you sycophant useless slimy worm dick tool.

Posted by toolbox monitor | January 18, 2008 11:02 PM

Let's cap Thai restaurants and teriyaki joints. Clearly it's unfair to fans of other cuisines that they're taking up all the available restaurant properties. Those other restaurant styles, and their fans, need a chance to catch up.

Damn {landlords, teriyaki purveyors}!

Posted by Troy | January 19, 2008 8:39 AM

The quality of Bellevue Ave's thinking and trenchant analysis is exceeded only by the quality of his/her writing and skillful use of punctuation.

As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you might want to get past those 100 level Econ courses before you start thinking you're Paul Krugman.

Posted by Mr. X | January 19, 2008 10:46 AM

The quality of Bellevue Avenue's trenchant analysis is exceeded only by his/her skillful use of grammar and punctuation. Third rate thinking, expressed at about a sixth (or to be charitable - seventh) grade level.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you might want to get past those 100-Level Econ courses before you start thinking you're Paul Krugman.

You actually think the so-called "free market" is truly free, and an immutable natural force of nature right up there with gravity and the laws of thermodynamics, don't you?


Posted by Mr. X | January 19, 2008 10:56 AM

Oh look - I wasted my time retyping a post that I thought disappeared into the online ether. My apologies for the redundancy (though the new closing paragraph on post #32 redeems it somewhat).

Posted by Mr. X | January 19, 2008 10:59 AM

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