In this week's paper, I write about my landlord dramatically jacking up rents, beginning major renovations, and essentially forcing out tenants (who can't stand the construction or afford rents up to 92 percent higher). When I was conducting interviews, I wondered if these circumstances trigger the city's Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO), which requires landlords to provide benefits for renters being displaced by demolitions, tenants of residential buildings transformed for commercial use, people who live in buildings with property alterations so substantial that they displace the tenant for more than 72 hours, and other circumstances. (More info on the law is here.) Should our landlord be offering benefits prescribed by the TRAO to help tenants relocate?
When I asked Pacific Living Property's Washington regional manager, Jason Alldredge—who oversees the Prince of Wales building—why he did not pursue a Tenant Relocation License, he said it was because "the city does not declare Prince a low-income housing." I could have done more research on his claim, but it turns out my weekend got turned upside down. Upon revisiting this issue, I believe Alldredge misstated the situation. Despite what he told me, there is nothing in the TRAO that requires a building to qualify as low-income housing. That's a misleading argument. From my understanding, TRAO applies to income-qualifying tenants: single-person households making $30,350 or less per year. So even if the property is not low-income housing, per se, there are plenty of tenants who have low incomes that may qualify. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Prince tenants qualify for the relocation assistance (the building is not being entirely demolished and, technically, renters can stay in the construction zones), but the City of Seattle's Housing Ordinance Supervisor Jim Metz says either way, "It'd be the right thing to do."
Because realistically, the Prince of Wales tenants are being relocated and the inconveniences are stunning. For instance, last night when I got home from work, all of the electric outlets had been cut to my unit. I couldn't use my microwave or charge my cell phone, and even my fridge had been cut from power. So all my food, including a ham, got warm and needed to be thrown out. My modem won't run so I have no internet access—I had to go to out and find wifi to write this. And lately, I really don't feel like going out. I notified PLP of the problem yesterday evening and they did not fix it until today, though last night my interim apartment manager responded and was unable to provide help. If these aren't the sort of renovation inconveniences that push out tenants, I don't know what are.
A problem for tenants is when landlords suggest that tenants have no rights to relocation assistance or legal recourse. And, of course, by the time tenants move out, it's too late. (I emailed Alldredge with follow-up questions and have not yet received a response.)