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June 2022 - Rental housing

Eloraine Apartments

Clerk File 75125 from 1919 includes correspondence and data relating to a rental housing crisis in Seattle. The Tenants Protective Association wrote to the mayor urging him to support an ordinance regulating the rental market, citing significant and rapid rent increases and growing numbers of eviction notices. The file includes various notices of raised rents, data relating to increases in specific buildings, and correspondence from renters asking for help (one of which asked for "relief from the Rent Hogs").

A list of Quincy Apartments tenants shows significant rises from summer to November 1st; for example, from $35 to $60 for one tenant, and from $15 to $32.50 for another. Similar lists were included for a number of other buildings, with information compiled by the Tenants Protective Association.

There were also reports of all tenants being given notice to vacate the premises as new lease holders took over, and accounts of ownership changing hands multiple times within a year or two. A widow reported that the ceiling in her bathroom had fallen off six months prior due to a leak upstairs and had never been fixed.

At this time, leases on apartment buildings were apparently bought separately from the property itself, with leaseholders being responsible for maintenance and also for setting and collecting rents. This period saw a great deal of speculation in those leases with constant turnover of ownership. Each time the leases were sold for a higher price, the new owner charged higher rents to cover the cost of their purchase. One lease was reported as being purchased for $5500, with $3000 going to the previous owner and $2500 to the real estate firm that negotiated the deal.

The clerk file also includes financial statements from owners showing their income and expenses, including increases in their costs for coal and fuel oil, taxes, janitor salaries, and so on. Commenting on these accounts, the King County Fair Price Committee noted that "the reports show that in the most instances the present manager is not making a large profit, the high rental is due to the turn over of the lease – some houses have had the leases sold several times within a few months. It is a vicious practice which should be stopped by law."

Many correspondents blamed Japanese lease holders for the high prices. One tenant wrote, "The Japs are taking full advantage of the situation and the dividends will go to Japan...to increase the propaganda in that country for investment in the Pacific Coast States which Japan hopes and undoubtedly will control economically." Another tenant warned that "raising rents to such exorbitant figures is creating an unrest," and that "[i]f this Bolsheviki and I.W.W. tendency is to be stamped out in Seattle and the country at large," speculation must be curbed and rent stabilized.