‘I don’t want Tacoma to become another Bellevue’: Frustration as rents increase in Pierce County

TACOMA, Wash. — Frustrated Tacoma renters looking to curb landlord’s power are now advocating for a “Tenant’s Bill of Rights.” Supporters of the movement highlight that Pierce County landlords have increased rents by over 40% in the past five years. Opponents argue some components of the initiative could have unintended consequences.

After spending decades as a Bellevue homeowner, Teri Johnson was looking for a change. In search of both affordability and a change of scenery, she landed in Tacoma seven years ago. She’s called her apartment building near Wright Park home ever since.

“When I found this place, I felt I’d died and gone to heaven,” said Johnson. “There are very few vintage places that have been kept up.”

According to Johnson, each year her rent went up about $20 to $50. She felt that was reasonable. This year, however, Johnson was shocked to receive a notice of a monthly increase ranging from $150 to $200.

“I don’t want Tacoma to become another Bellevue,” said Johnson. “We need to keep affordable areas within this great wonderful region that we have here.”

Complaints of rising rents and excessive fees are uniting tenants under the “Tacoma 4 All.” They want local voters to say yes to Initiative 2023-01, which would:

  • Require six months’ notice for all rent increases.
  • Relocation assistance for rent hikes over 5%.
  • Cap fees and deposits.
  • Ban cold weather evictions: November – March.
  • Ban rent hikes when code violations exist.
  • No school-year evictions of children and educators.

Real estate broker and property owner Nelya Calev wants to shed light on the landlords’ perspective. Calev says pandemic rate freezes and eviction moratoriums forced many small-scale landlords to sell. She argues those still in the game are likely raising rates to make up for lost time.

“A lot of tenants got away with not paying rent for a good three years,” said Calev. “It was hurting a lot of landlords that are not corporations at the end of the day, that did not have deep pockets.”

Calev thinks a six-month heads-up for rent increases is reasonable but is reticent about any caps. She says right now landlords are experiencing increases themselves.

“Your insurance is going up, your taxes are going up,” said Calev. “Essentially, I guess these expenses are being passed on to tenants.”

Opponents of the Bill of Rights are now pushing an initiative of their own, one that is far more moderate. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the opposing initiatives further in a week’s time. If consensus is not reached and the parties remain at odds, there’s a chance both initiatives could end up on the November ballot.

Comments on this article