Commercial Rent Control – Is it Legal?

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Small businesses face overwhelming obstacles just surviving in the modern economy. Big businesses capture not only the lion’s share of profit, they also utilize their capital to exert a disproportionate influence on politics – influence which is used to further corporate interests at the expense of workers and small businesses alike.

It is the disproportionate economic power wielded by big business that serves as the greatest threat to the success of small businesses, including limited access to reasonable and reliable rent for commercial property – not decent wages for workers, like the $15/hour minimum wage we won in 2014.

Commercial rent control would provide stability for small businesses, guaranteeing reasonable and reliable rates. Commercial rent control would help preserve the character of the city, foster the arts, and create a much more stable environment and future for workers.

There is no legal obstacle to the Seattle City Council enacting commercial rent control right now. The statewide ban on residential rent control – while undemocratic and exploitative – is so explicit in its focus that it’s literally titled “Controls on rent for residential structures – Prohibited – Exceptions.”

The only obstacle we face is the question of whether there is sufficient political will on the council to enact rent control for the oft-mentioned but little supported small business community in Seattle.

Currently, the real estate lobby has mobilized to challenge our “Progressive Plan for Seattle’s Small Businesses and Their Workers.” We need to be emphatic – commercial rent control is legal.

In its entirety, the RCW 35.21.830, the ban on residential rent control, states:

The imposition of controls on rent is of statewide significance and is preempted by the state. No city or town of any class may enact, maintain, or enforce ordinances or other provisions which regulate the amount of rent to be charged for single-family or multiple-unit residential rental structures or sites other than properties in public ownership, under public management, or properties providing low-income rental housing under joint public-private agreements for the financing or provision of such low-income rental housing. This section shall not be construed as prohibiting any city or town from entering into agreements with private persons which regulate or control the amount of rent to be charged for rental properties.

[1981 c 75 § 1.]


Applicability to floating home moorage sites — 1981 c 75: “Nothing in this act shall be construed to preempt local ordinances that relate to the control of rents or other relationships at floating home moorage sites.” [1981 c 75 § 3.]

 Severability — 1981 c 75: “If any provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.” [1981 c 75 § 4.]