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After Homeowners Threaten Lawsuit, Seattle Backs Down From ‘Housing Affordability’ Fees

After more than a year of refusing to issue a renovation permit, the city changed its mind after the Institute for Justice got involved

Almost two years ago, Andre and Erika Cherry bought their first home together. The home was a modest two-bedroom fixer-upper built in 1916. After a century of wear and tear, the home showed its age and needed a top-to-bottom renovation—but the Cherrys were up for the challenge. They had always dreamed of owning a home together, and this was a home within their budget.

Unfortunately, the Cherrys’ dream quickly turned into a nightmare when the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) informed them that they needed to pay a whopping $11,000 fee in order to get a building permit to do the renovation. This fee was part of Seattle’s wildly inaccurately named “Mandatory Housing Affordability Law” (MHA).

According to the city, the Cherrys’ home renovation was creating a “new structure” because they were changing the exterior of their home “too much.” For more than a year, the Cherrys tried to adjust their plans and plead their case with the city to show that MHA did not apply to their home renovation and that the city’s demands made no sense.

Eventually, the Cherrys found the Institute for Justice (IJ). IJ wrote a letter to the city demanding it give the Cherrys their permit without the additional MHA fees and requirements. That letter explained, as the Cherrys had, that MHA did not apply to their home renovation and that the city’s demands made no sense. Moreover, IJ noted, SDCI’s $11,000 demand violated the Cherrys’ constitutional rights.

Three weeks later, the city relented without explanation. All they said was “SDCI is dropping the MHA requirement for this project, and the applicant contact has been informed.” The permit was issued today.

Although the Cherrys can now get their permit, Seattle’s threats have already taken their toll. The delay cost the Cherrys thousands of dollars, and it will continue to cost them thousands more.

“The amount of emotional and financial stress this ordeal has caused is immeasurable,” said homeowner Erika Cherry. “Seattle turned our dream of home ownership into a nightmare. Even though we can get our permit now, we should have gotten it more than a year ago. We had rental and storage costs while we waited for the permit and we still have them now. It is very frustrating that we had to get lawyers involved just to get our permit.”

“The government should not be coercing people to pay thousands of dollars in unrelated fees just so they can renovate their home,” explained William Maurer, Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice’s Washington Office. “The MHA operates on the bizarre assumption that forcing people to pay exorbitant fees will somehow make housing more affordable. After news of our letter to SDCI broke, we were contacted by numerous people who had been subjected to these and other similar massive permit fees. It is sadly clear that many local governments in Washington are treating homeowners like ATMs.”

The Cherrys are not alone in fighting for their rights. Will you help the Institute for Justice fight for the Cherrys’ rights and others like them by making a tax-deductible contribution today?

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