Rising rents present few good options for tenants

by: Deborah Horne Updated:

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SEATTLE - When Brenda Baker moved into her two bedroom apartment in Renton nearly four years ago, she could afford to live there.

"Right now, I'm paying $1,305," she said.

This is how it pencils out. There's her rent. Add $120 a month for garbage, water and sewer. Add $50 to $100 for her monthly electric bill. That's nearly $1,600 for just the basics.  

"They said that rent was going up everywhere," Baker said.

That includes for hers. Last month, Baker got a renewal notice. 

Her rent is going up by $240 a month and there's not much she can do to stop it. 

"It's sticker shock!" she said.

And she is not alone. 

A management representative at Benson Downs apartment homes readily admits, rents here are going up.  He says it's an average of $200 a month when a renter renews his or her lease.  He says they're going up to meet ''market rates.'' 

He wouldn't talk on camera but Baker says she was told even in not so desirable Renton:  "People from Seattle are moving more towards this area so they're raising their rents." 

But what is a tenant to do if she can't afford to pay? 

"It's clear the landlords have a lot more power than the tenants," said Mark Chattin. 

 As director of Legal Action Center, he represents mostly low income renters facing eviction.   

Chattin said there's really just one viable way to go after a landlord and that's only if the rent is being raised in retaliation.

 But even that has a major downside. 

"The bad part of that is how do you prove it's retaliation?" asked Chattin.  "You become a defendant in an eviction action that is going to damage your credit history, even if you win your case."

 He was asked if it is a stigma. 

"That is a very big stigma," he responded. "It's a black mark. And it's almost permanent. Landlords do not rent to people who have been defendants in eviction actions." 

So we went to a seminar for Realtors to talk to Windermere Property Manager Cassie Walker Johnson to ask why rents are continuing to skyrocket.

One reason, she says, despite signs to the contrary, there simply aren't enough places for everyone moving to the Puget Sound to rent.

"Demand is incredibly high," she says. 

So high, it's created upside down situations where tenants are often outbidding each other for what is available. 

"So it's not just us that's raising the rents," said Walker Johnson. "This is the demand of the tenants who are wanting to be in a property and are willing to pay more to get into it." 

And as more people are pushed out of hot neighborhoods, they're moving to more affordable ones, driving up rents there as well. 

Leaving Brenda Baker with few good options.

She was asked what she plans to do. 

"I'm moving," she declared.

Baker says she is moving to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. 

"My lease is up at the end of this month and obviously I can't afford $1,540 a month," Baker said. "So I had to take a position out of state in order just to, kind of survive, I guess."

She'll survive -- and likely thrive -- but it will be nearly 3,300 miles away.