Seattle Roommate Bill

Posted By: Brett Waller Advocacy News , Articles ,
In September 2019, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that permits tenants to add additional occupants to existing tenancies.

The law passed the City Council unanimously, but the Mayor did not sign the legislation, allowing it to go into effect without her signature. Though we have provided limited information about this ordinance previously we have been waiting for guidance from the City to provide a full picture of this ordinance.  

The law takes effect July 1 and applies to all lease agreements entered on or afterJuly 1, 2020 and to month-to-month tenancies in the city of Seattle only. A copy of the ordinance can be found here.
Under the law, tenants can add to their household the following individuals:

  • Immediate family (subject to occupancy standards)
  • One additional non-immediate family roommate (subject to occupancy standards); and/or
  • The immediate family of the one additional non-immediate family roommate (subject to occupancy standards)

“Immediate family” is defined very broadly to include: spouses, domestic partners, former spouses, former domestic partners, adult persons related by marriage, siblings, persons 16 years of age or older who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past and who have or have had a dating relationship, and persons who have a parent-child relationship, including parents, stepparents, grandparents, adoptive parents, guardians, foster parents, or custodians of minors.  
It is possible to ask for basic verification of the immediate family member status, but you must engage in careful consultation consistent with fair housing laws. 
In order to add an additional occupant or immediate family member(s), the tenant must notify the landlord within 30 days of adding someone to their household. 
Landlords have the right to screen potential occupants and immediate family members subject to the following guidelines:

  • A landlord cannot require additional screening criteria, beyond those used to qualify tenants. 
  • A non-immediate family roommate can be screened and can be denied occupancy based on screening.
  • Immediate family can be screened but they cannot be denied occupancy.
  • Screening charges are allowed in compliance with the Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance (SMC 7.24) and the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RCW 59.18).

Non-immediate family roommates can be required to join the existing rental agreement. If the landlord requires the non-immediate family roommate to join the existing rental agreement, the landlord must provide 30-days written notice to the unit to join the rental agreement. If the non-immediate family roommate does not join the rental agreement in 30 days, they must vacate within 15 days (45 days total).
Immediate family occupants cannot be required to join a rental agreement nor be denied occupancy. They can be listed as authorized occupants. However, if the tenant vacates prior to the expiration of the tenancy and the immediate family choose to remain, they may become parties to the rental agreement, subject to the same terms in rental agreement of the vacating tenant. The same is true if they are non-immediate family members, if they have resided in the property for the prior six months.
Except for a screening fee, no other move-in charges can be applied to the added household member. All original terms of the rental agreement remain the same.
The landlord cannot increase housing costs for added household members unless provided for in the rental agreement and with proper notice (60 days prior to the end of rental term). However, an exception exists where variable utility charges based on usage and number of occupants are charged to the household and defined in the rental agreement.
Two exemptions exist in the law:

  • Owner-occupied rentals where the owner is renting a room in their home, including accessory dwelling units; and
  • Federally assisted housing. Federally assisted housing is not specifically defined in the law, however the language of the ordinance trends toward denial in public housing tenancies and identified in federal regulations. This includes, but is not limited to, lifetime sex offender registry, or conviction of manufacturing or producing methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing. 

***A previous version of this blog incorrectly stated that immediate family members must live in the unit for 6 months prior to assuming a rental agreement after a tenant vacates - Immediate family members can assume the lease without limitation as to time lived in teh unit.