The mission of the Tenants Union (TU) is to create housing justice through empowerment-based education, outreach, leadership development, organizing, and advocacy. Founded in 1977, the TU carries on a proud legacy of work to create concrete improvements in tenants’ living conditions and challenge and transform unjust housing policies and practices. As a membership organization, the TU’s work is grounded in the strong conviction that tenants must be the leaders of efforts to transform our housing conditions and communities. The TU embraces the values of equality, hope, tenant leadership, respect, direct action, civic courage, racial and economic justice, and self-determination in our work.
Tenants Union Members: The work of the TU has been sustained for over 34 years through the support of its membership. Members are the heart of the TU’s work for housing justice, and are the strongest base of support we have. For more information or to become a member of the Tenants Union, see Tenants Union Membership.
A Place to Live: A Place to Live is the support organization for the Benson East Tenant Association (BETA). BETA is the Northwest’s first tenant-owned property that was organized in 2000 by the Tenants Union. BETA is committed to fighting for housing justice and tenant autonomy by advancing tenant ownership campaigns and tenant empowerment. See Tenant Ownership for more information.
Fales Foundation: The Fales Foundation Trust was established in 1985 by Gilbert R. Fales, a long-time Seattle resident. The Foundation was established to provide financial support to social service agencies addressing issues of homelessness and hunger, and to artistic and cultural organizations in the city of Seattle.
Seattle Foundation: The Seattle Foundation’s mission is to create a healthy community through engaged philanthropy, community knowledge and leadership. We inspire informed and generous giving to make our community—local, national and international—a vital and healthy place to live.
Catholic Campaign for Human Development: CCHD Community Development Grants support efforts that demonstrate a commitment to the dignity of the human person. CCHD-funded groups are led by people living in poverty and work to address the root causes of poverty by nurturing solidarity between the poor and non-poor and facilitating the participation of people living in poverty in decisions that perpetuate poverty in their lives. As part of such efforts, low-income people gain the ability to identify barriers, brainstorm solutions, and take action to change problematic structures and systems in their communities.
National Center for Healthy Housing: The National Center for Healthy Housing is a 501©(3) nonprofit corporation based in Columbia, Maryland, dedicated to creating healthy and safe homes for children through practical and proven steps. Using a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, NCHH brings the public health, housing, environmental, and regulatory communities together to combat disease and injuries caused by hazards in the home. With more than 17 years of experience, NCHH conducts applied research, program evaluation, technical assistance, training, and outreach that is focused on reducing the health consequences of indoor exposures. NCHH’s staff includes housing, health, and environmental professionals with expertise in biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, public health, housing policy, and industrial hygiene.
King County: King County Councilmembers Julia Patterson and Larry Gossett are long-time supporters of the Tenants Union, and were able to secure funding for the TU’s Education Program in 2012. Our funding has also been renewed through 2015.
City of Seattle: The City of Seattle’s Human Services Division has generously provided a large sum of our funding for the TU’s Tenant Education Program.
Seattle Tenants Union Formed: Concerned tenant volunteers formed the Seattle Tenants Union (STU) in response to widespread substandard housing conditions and lack of decent, healthy, affordable housing.
TU Incorporation: In 1977, the loose-knit coalition of volunteers incorporated into a non-profit organization. The first paid staffing was provided through the Americorps VISTA volunteer program. TU provided services through an educational hotline and organized at buildings and region-wide for broad policy change to address housing injustices. The STU was funded largely through membership donations.
Rent Regulation Initiative: STU led efforts to pass an initiative to institute rent regulation in Seattle. The initiative was overwhelmed by opposition from the landlord lobby, which raised $400,000 to defeat it. Landlords used the opportunity to successfully lobby state legislators to push through a statewide prohibition on any local rent regulation, which still stands today.
Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance: In response to the rent control initiative loss, tenants and homeless advocates fought for protection from arbitrary evictions. The displacement of 250 households by the building of the Convention Center downtown put displacement and homelessness in the spotlight. The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance was passed by the Seattle City Council and stands today as one of the most vital tenant protections for Seattle tenants. The Ordinance outlaws arbitrary evictions and defines just cause for termination of tenancy in Seattle.”
Tenant Education Program: In 1981, the City of Seattle began to provide funding to support the Hotline and outreach and education work of the STU. The Hotline was open 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday.
Downtown Housing Maintenance Ordinance: In response to widespread abandonment of housing in downtown Seattle, this legislation made it a responsibility of owners to keep their buildings habitable and continue to rent out viable housing in downtown and lower First Hill neighborhoods. It also included provisions for financial assistance to owners to ensure units where habitable.
Housing Preservation Ordinance (HPO): Passed to help stem the loss of downtown affordable housing units, many of which were single room occupancy units (SRO’s). The HPO included a requirement that prior to change use or tearing down housing, owners either replace lost units elsewhere or contribute to a fund for low cost housing. The HPO also instituted relocation assistance for tenants who were displaced as a result of redevelopment of their homes.
RHIP Rental Housing Inspection Program: Substandard housing conditions throughout the city were the fuel for the campaign to create a program of systematic housing inspections. Property owners paid taxes to cover the cost of the program. Landlords sued and RHIP tax was found unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court.
Seattle Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance: This ordinance requires that landowners applying for building permits for demolition or change of use give tenants 90 days’ notice and financial assistance to move.
Seattle: Condo Conversion Tenant Protection Ordinance: Requires developers to offer right of first refusal and provide relocation assistance to tenants facing conversion of apartments to condominiums.
Seattle Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance: One way leases required a tenant to stay 6 months or a year in order to get their deposit back. The Tenants Union fought for a law that made these kinds of restrictions on month-to-month tenancies illegal in Seattle. The new law also required that landlords give tenants a summary of landlord-tenant laws.
Security House Preserved: The elderly and disabled tenants at Security House organized to save their affordable housing from being sold off as a hotel in downtown Seattle. The campaign preserved their homes and instigated a campaign to ensure that any publicly funded purchaser must maintain federal subsidies.
Thurston County Tenants Union (TCTU): When 20 units of housing were facing demolition, Olympia activist Pat Tassoni and other tenant leaders organized to save them. TCTU provided tenant education, organized tenants for building improvements and housing preservation, and built a coalition of tenants working for social justice.
STOP Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project: STOP was formed in response to a crisis in the growing number of project based Section 8 buildings that were canceling the subsidies that made the units affordable to very low income tenants. STOP educates and organizes Section 8 voucher tenants and tenants in project-based Section 8 buildings, working to affect change in housing policy at the local level and preserve the long term affordability of Section 8 housing.
60 Day Notice on Rent Increases: The Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance was amended in 1998 to require that Seattle landlords give 60 days’ notice if they increase a tenant’s rent 10% or more in a 12-month period. This campaign was led by tenant leaders from the Qualman Building and the Biltmore on Capitol Hill.
Affordable Housing Funding Policy Reforms: Changes internal policies of the WA State Housing Trust Fund, King County Housing Opportunity Fund and Seattle Housing Levy to require that developers who receive funds must maintain existing federal subsidies.
Federal Budget Advocacy: In collaboration with national tenants’ rights and housing organizations, mobilize membership to impact budget and policy decisions at the federal level through phone campaigns, local meetings with elected officials, training and advocacy in Washington D.C., and media advocacy.
STOP: Avalon Ridge Civil Rights Victory: African American mothers who used Section 8 to pay rent came together when they all received eviction notices. Through grassroots organizing and a class action lawsuit, the TU and the tenants won not only individual compensation and a moratorium on the evictions, but also established an important legal precedent that canceling participate in the Section 8 program can have a disparate impact on mothers of color.
Section 8 Statewide Legislation Statewide Section 8 Tenant Protection Legislation: This state law requires property owners to provide notice to tenants, state and local jurisdiction one year prior to cancellation of federal subsidies, and to provide tenants with information about their rights. This was the TU’s first statewide legislative victory.
Federal Right to Organize Legislation: This law guarantees tenants’ rights to distribute information, go door to door, meet and organize to address concerns. It also requires owners and HUD to respond to and consider tenant input in key project decisions.
Seattle Right to Organize Ordinance: The TU won law that offers tenant protections against retaliation, guarantees tenants’ rights to distribute information, talk to their neighbors and meet to address concerns.
Oxford Apartment Preservation: The tenants at the Oxford faced rent increases and displacement when the owner sold the building and cancelled the Section 8 subsidy contract without proper notice to tenants. The tenants organized with STOP, won support from the community and elected officials, and with the help of legal services negotiated a settlement that protected all current residents, and maintained 15 units as affordable for another 15 years.
Seattle: Third Party Billing Regulation Ordinance: This Seattle ordinance requires landlords to disclose information regarding third party billing practices and establishes city administered billing dispute process.
BETA Benson East Tenant Ownership Project: The 32 families at the Benson East in Kent, WA were facing displacement when the owner planned to cancel the Section 8 contract and sell off all 16 buildings. With the support of STOP, the tenants organized, formed a new non-profit organization, and partnered with a developer to purchase the complex. The tenants, who conduct all meetings in four languages, no have legal and day to day control over the management and operations of the complex, and continue to take an active role in promoting tenants’ rights and tenant ownership.
Park Apartments: Tenants at this rundown complex in the suburban city of Auburn were subject to self-help evictions overseen by local police, unfair fees, utility shut offs and dangerous housing conditions. They organized a tenants association and forced the city to prevent police from overseeing illegal evictions, and force the landlord to make major health and safety repairs.
Statewide Tenant Relocation Assistance: This “slumlord accountability” law requires negligent property owners whose property is shut down by a government agency to pay relocation assistance to displaced tenants. It also allows local jurisdictions to provide relocation assistance and collect penalties from property owner. See A Victory Over the Slumlords.
SOID Source of Income Discrimination Campaign: Multi-year campaign to expand fair housing protections to include source of income used to pay housing costs including Section 8 vouchers or public assistance. This law was not passed statewide, but Source of Income protection continues to be one of the Tenants Union’s priorities. See Access to Housing Organizing for more information on current work.
Douglas Apartments: The tenants at the Douglas lived for years with dangerously substandard housing conditions. Organizing efforts in past years brought short term improvements, but the slumlord owner aggressively intimidated tenants, including calling immigration enforcement, and conditions quickly deteriorated again. In 2006 the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) announced it would purchase the property using eminent domain. While the purchase was potentially good news, SHA has a track record of major developments in the Rainier Valley, the city’s most diverse and poorest neighborhood, which are not affordable to very low-income people. The tenants organized through the Justice in Southeast Seattle project and won guaranteed relocation assistance, the right to return, an independent panel to review any rejections of current tenants, and a redevelopment plan that includes housing affordable to very low income people and units open to tenants regardless of immigration status. These victories are particularly important because the Douglas is in the Rainier Valley just blocks from a new light rail station, and faced near certain displacement from gentrification.
STOP Section 8 Voucher Grievance Hearing Reform: Hundreds of Section 8 voucher tenants in Seattle were being made homeless by an unfair and illegal hearing process at Seattle Housing Authority (SHA). Over 90% of hearings went in favor of SHA, and the one hearing officer employed by SHA categorically refused to consider the tenants documentation, civil rights laws or domestic violence protections in his decisions. With the support of STOP an attorney from Northwest Justice Project, the recommendations made by STOP to improve the Section 8 program and protect tenants’ rights in grievance hearings were fully adopted by SHA. SHA agreed to hire a panel of legally trained hearing officers who will consider all relevant evidence and legal arguments to ensure that tenants are no longer terminated unfairly or capriciously. Significant improvements were made in SHA policies around domestic violence, language access and disability issues, and several tenants have had their vouchers reinstated as a direct result of STOP organizing. STOP served as a national model for organizing led by Section 8 voucher holders.
Improve Landlord-Tenant Laws: In partnership with other tenant advocacy groups, the TU successfully advocated for comprehensive changes to the Landlord-Tenant Act that resulted in critical, long-overdue improvements for Washington State tenants. You can read all the changes in SHB 1266.
Downtowner Apartments Downtowner Tenants Association: STOP organized with tenants in the Downtowner Apartments who were facing displacement because the landlord planned to opt out of the Section 8 program. Tenant leaders formed a tenants association and were able to secure low income housing and preserve the building as affordable. Downtowner tenants also took their concerns directly to HUD and were able to set national precedents in affordable housing policy.
RRIO: After a 5 year campaign — and almost 20 years for the TU — the Seattle City Council unanimously voted in the Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO), a law that will dramatically shift the power imbalance between landlords and tenants and hold the slumlords in our community accountable.
Spokane, WA: TU opens first office in Spokane, WA.
Seattle Housing Authority’s “Stepping Forward”: After a whirlwind campaign involving community leaders, nonprofit organizations, government officials, churches, and education institutions – the Seattle Housing Authority ended considerations of their rent increase policy, “Stepping Forward”. This stepped rent policy would have raised rents by 400% over a 5-7 year time span for work-able Seattle Housing Authority residents, effectively evicting tenants from one of the last forms of affordable housing in the area.
Rent Control Resolution Due to support from community organizations, allies, and TU members, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution calling for local control of rent stabilization and control decisions. This does not create rent control; rather, it sends a strong message to Olympia that the ban on rent control is helping to continue our housing and homelessness crisis.
Seattle Closes Economic Eviction Loophole Long advocated for by the Tenants Union, the City of Seattle approved an ordinance prohibiting landlords from raising rents to displace tenants without paying the required relocation assistance when conducting substantial rehabilitations. Most often, low-income tenants are displaced from their homes by landlords seeking to renovate and increase rents for the new units. Due to the actions by the Seattle City Council and support from community members like you – tenants have an outlet to hold their landlords accountable.
Seattle Passes Carl Haglund Law In response to a 2015 campaign against notorious slumlord Carl Haglund with directly impacted tenants in substandard housing, the Seattle City Council passed the Carl Haglund Law, a law that bars rent increases in homes with major housing violations. When Seattle tenants live in slum conditions, they shouldn’t have to deal with increase after increase to make repairs that should have happened years ago. When we fight, we win!
Seattle Affirms HUD Regulations on Housing for those with Criminal Histories The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution affirming their intent to follow the new HUD regulations and develop a City-wide ordinance to combat the constant denials and hopelessness that comes with criminal records. This is a major step forward for those impacted by mass incarceration in the United States.
TU Victory! Renton Passes Emergency Ban on Source of Income Discrimination. In October 2016, over 60 families holding Section 8 vouchers in three apartment complexes in Renton, WA were issued notices stating that their new management company had decided to stop honoring Section 8 vouchers and tenants would be required to relocate weeks before the holidays. Tenants across Renton banded together to fight to keep their housing, and with the help of the Tenants Union, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Northwest Justice Project, Columbia Legal Services and others, encouraged Renton City Council to pass an emergency ban on source discrimination denying landlords to right refuse tenancy to renters based on how they pay their rent. This legislation was initiated and passed within 3 weeks, effectively demonstrating that when tenants fight discriminatory rental housing practices they win!