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July 2017

Seattle landlords must provide voter registration info to new renters

Tenants who rent within Seattle will get information on voter registration and a registration form from their landlord. An ordinance requiring that provision passed in a 6-0 vote of the Seattle City Council (three members were absent). It becomes effective 30 days after Mayor Ed Murray signs it.

The measure adds two more pages to a packet of documents landlords are required to give to new tenants. Landlords can access the documents via the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections and will have the option of downloading the packet online or obtaining it at SDCI.

The legislation drew support from various community and nonprofit organizations, but met with mixed reaction from landlord groups. 

The Rental Housing Association of Washington, in a statement on its website, questioned why the requirement only applies to landlords, and suggested it be a part of all residential real estate transactions.

"One group of citizens should not be prioritized over another, which is why RHAWA calls on the City Council to more thoughtfully enhance its voter registration legislation to include all citizens of our city, and to be a fair and willing partner with landlords by acknowledging that it, too, can play a role in enhancing the functioning of our democracy," the statement read.

Landlords who fail to comply with the requirement could be fined up to $1,000 in a civil action, and their tenant could terminate the rental agreement.

The bill's sponsor, Council member Kshama Sawant, said it is "one part of addressing the statistical disenfranchisement" among renters who are more likely to be low-income, younger people, and people of color. She cited U.S. Census Bureau data indicating only 21 percent of renters who had lived in their homes for less than a year reported voting. That number increases to 41 percent when renters have been in their homes for more than five years.

Census Bureau data analyzed by the Seattle Times indicates Seattle is the fastest-growing big city in the country with a net gain of 57 people per day, on average, from July 2015 through July 2016.