The city's Department of Planning and Development saw a serious spike over the last several years in the number of rental-housing-related violation complaints, DPD director Diane Sugimura told the council's land use committee yesterday.

Since 2008, the number of complaint calls from landlords and tenants combined more than doubled from 1,833 to 3,829. Of those 3,829 calls, 1,173 were complaints about tenant relocation---an increase from 623 in 2008. Complaints about rental housing, including evictions, emergency orders from DPD, or illegal or uninhabitable units, meanwhile, more than tripled from 607 to 1,999.

DPD spokesman Bryan Stevens attributes much of the increase to better record-keeping by DPD (counting email and in-person contacts, for example, in addition to phone complaints) and the fact that the Downtowner Apartments in Pioneer Square were renovated last year, resulting in the relocation of hundreds of tenants.

In yesterday's meeting, Sugimura also noted that an increase in complaints is "probably to be expected in this economy"; and a staff report attributed the spike to "increased calls about residential tenant evictions."

And Stevens added, "I think it’s safe to assume that over the last 2-3 years we’ve had an increase in the number of calls regarding tenants that aren’t able to pay rent or landlords that aren’t returning a tenant’s deposit.  These are all things that could directly relate to the economy."

Jonathan Grant, executive director of the Washington Tenants' Union, calls the spike in complaints "a sign of the times," adding, "we're seeing a pretty big increase of people getting impacted by their rent getting hiked," combined with increased unemployment, which obviously makes it harder to pay higher rents. Additionally, Grant says, tenants are increasingly being evicted by banks that take over homes that have been foreclosed.

The Tenants Union will hold a community meeting on substandard housing on January 24; contact community organizer Emily Murphy at emilym@tenantsunion.org for more information.