By Seana Sperling
When I moved back to Seattle in 1993, rent for a basic one bedroom was around $500.00 and studios were $300.00 to $400.00. A nice one bedroom in a secured building was around $700.00 per month. Rents have soared over the last twenty years, while wages have not. In Seattle you pay around $1000.00 or more for a basic one bedroom with no amenities. Either the wages need to rise to meet inflation or homes need to be affordable.
In the late 1970s, I rented a studio apartment for $80.00 a month. It was not fancy and the laundry was a coin-op down the street. At the time I earned $500.00 a month (after taxes) as a bookkeeping clerk, so my rent was less than a fifth of my take-home salary. Now my rent is nearly half of my take-home pay and I am an Adviser at a college. Granted the 1970s was a long time ago, however, the disparity between the percentage of rent paid, compared to money earned in the 1970s when compared to today’s percentages is huge.
According to www.rentjungle.com one bedroom apartments in Seattle are $1381 a month on average and two bedroom apartments average $1846 per month. These rent.com sites generally feature higher-end apartment buildings that may be in popular locations like Capitol Hill, Queen Anne and downtown. Most buildings also have many amenities such as a pool or a gym. I believe sites like these are contributing to the rise in prices of regular apartments for property managers and landowners may see this as market value, thus prompting them to increase rents on less well-appointed apartments.
I asked one property manager why a small apartment that was lacking amenities, was so expensive and she told me that was the market rate. Is it the market rate for an apartment in a newly built building with a dishwasher and washer and dryer in every unit, and a gym, or is it the market rate for a basic apartment with no amenities?
There has been much talk about raising the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour because of the high cost of living in Seattle. Either the cost of living has to be met by the employers or the landowners/property management companies need to make abodes more cost-friendly. Do we need Rent Control like they have in many major cities or do we need an increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour?
Although I think a raise in the minimum wage is reasonable, I vote first for Rent Control. All the arguments I have heard for why the landowners have to raise rents seem flimsy (market rate, rise in property taxes). In fact it seems that some are just pushing for whatever they can get away with. Without Rent Control management companies or landowners can charge whatever they want for any type of apartment. This has priced many out of the Seattle area and they have half to one-hour commutes each day for work. The high costs have also contributed to homelessness. I have seen many apartment advertisements on craigslist that demand $1050.00 rent, first and last as well as an additional deposit. If it costs someone approximately $2600.00 to move in, many prospective tenants will be eliminated. (Also, I believe charging first, last and a deposit is in direct violation of Tenant/Landlord Laws.)
Another issue with the hikes in rent is that many property management companies follow a corporate model, so some are very disconnected from the needs of the tenants. Being a corporation creates a divide between the company’s goals (profit margin) and the needs of people. It is easier to distance oneself from a “complaining,” tenant by saying that this is our corporate policy. Sorry. “You aren’t a team player.” Many property management companies (not all) seem more concerned about their commissions and the happiness of their “clients,” (the landowners), than the tenants trying to pay for their home.
With the growing number of property management companies, there is no longer a connection with landlord and tenant, but only corporate property manager and tenant. Many times you do not even know who owns your building unless you check the Tax Assessor’s page and look for the parcel by address. (It turns out some rich landowners do not like to be tracked down, but sometimes tenants need to contact them.)
In many cases there is not even an onsite manager (a Super) as property managers often stretch their Supers between two or three buildings. This is hard on the Super as well as the tenant.
Housing is a basic need, so when rents are unaffordable, this does direct harm to the citizenry. I have rented from a lot of different people throughout my life and the best situations, for the most part, were when the owners ran their own buildings. They cared more about their tenants, made repairs in a timely manner and did not jack up the rents arbitrarily. I lived in one building for six years and moved back for two more years after a three-year absence just because the landlord was such a good and trust-worthy person.
The fault is ours. People have become too passive and do not question the landowners or management companies. Of course some fear retaliation. It is difficult to stand up to the person that has the keys to your home and many fear retaliation.
I have been retaliated against for standing up to property managers. I confronted some about false advertising (advertising a studio as a one bedroom), not keeping promises made at the lease signing (refusing to let the tenant paint or even put up a small shelf, 2004), and raising rent without appropriate notice, 2007. From 2004 to 2006, it seems that a neo-conservative property manager may have been stalking me through my credit report. Her property management company had been listed as one of my creditors, and every time I moved or changed jobs and a search was done on my credit history, she must have been alerted and I had no idea.
I had break-ins and stolen mail in 2006, so I set up a fraud alert at my bank. When I received the initial fraud alert report, I saw her company name, slightly modified, in the section that listed just my creditors, thus she would have been contacted any time someone did a credit check on me. Her property management company should have only been listed in the history of companies doing a credit inquiry. I had her removed from my creditors list immediately.
At this point so much damage had been done to my on and offline reputation, which was causing problems everywhere I moved and at the new job I had just started. Another onsite manager connected to the same agency told me that this property manager went after me initially because she did not like my Impeach Bush sign (which was not in the window of that apartment, but had been in my previous apartment). I also heard that she had become even more furious after I tracked down the landowner to get out of my lease, so I could move away from the abuse that was taking place in that building.
Not long after that in 2005, another neo-conservative property manager and his onsite manager on top of Queen Anne hill, played all sorts of games starting when I moved in that October, such as breaking promises that had been made at the lease signing. Later that December, I found a particularly nasty mold on the wall behind my bed. It was not evident when I initially looked at the place and the onsite manager did not alert me to it. (A former tenant told me that management was already aware of it. That tenant had had the same problem with mold growing on the walls and the property management company had charged him for it when he moved. He was not happy.)
Even though I bleached the walls, the mold grew back and was making me ill, so I called the city about it and an inspector came out. This so enraged the property manager that he sent one of his henchmen over to saw off the bottom of my bathroom door that connected to my bedroom, claiming this must be the source of the mold and blamed me for not ventilating properly. The onsite manager was inferring that I had deliberately caused the mold and inferred that I was trying to run some sort of scam. Then the property manager’s lawyer sent me a strange letter demanding I fill out a form and send it back to them. I signed nothing and contacted Tenants Union about the mold. I was released from my lease in January 2006 after weeks of emails from the property manager telling me, I was a “complainer,” and that if it was so bad, then I should hurry and “flee.” I suppose he worried that other tenants might find out about the mold because it was likely happening to others in the building.
Later, in 2008, I found multiple postings on www.rottenneighbor.com accusing me of being a child molester, redneck, dishonest person, and more terrible libel. There was one funny one however. The post read, “She will steal your husband!” (I believe the more serious libel has triggered organized bullying, e-personation and stalking from the community. Some self-righteous people love mobbing and love to punish others even if they have no proof that the person has done anything wrong.)
Yes, I have been retaliated against, and yes, it is painful and has cost me friends, horrible damage to my reputation and caused terrible mobbing by the community, but we cannot be fearful of tyrants. Not all property managers or landlords are tyrants, but unfortunately, the tyrants make the good people look bad. So, don’t blame the tenant or the worker for standing up. Don’t blame Tenant’s Union or SeaSol or any other person or group that is standing up for the rights of others. Go to the source of the problem and demand your rights.