Court Rules Federal Way Just Cause Initiative Can Go to Ballot

Posted By: Sean Martin Government ,

On August 1, a King County judge ruled that an initiative which seeks to create a “just cause” ordinance in the city of Federal Way could be placed on the November ballot. The ruling came a few days after RHAWA had filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order against the measure.

The initiative, labeled as “Stable Homes,” would create just cause protections for renters which would require that landlords meet a “good standard” to terminate a tenancy in the city. Included within the ordinance are provisions which would also create protected classes for renters based on their job occupancy, and which would allow renters to move in relatives without permission of the landlord once a tenancy has been established.

Washington CAN, a community organization most commonly affiliated with Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, had the initiative drafted and supported the effort to secure just enough voter signatures to squeak on to the ballot. This action came after Federal Way City Council chose not to adopt an ordinance of its own.

RHAWA chose to pursue legal relief due to the filing of the initiative failing to comply with the city’s own procedure. Ultimately, the courts sided with the city’s argument that its own initiative laws were “anachronistic” and that state law could be substituted in favor of the city’s own laws

Just Cause termination laws are problematic for several reasons, the most obvious being that they’re predicated upon landlords being in the business of terminating tenancies which are causing no issues at the property. A lost tenancy poses significant financial risk to a landlord, and the decision to end a tenancy is not taken lightly.

Within the context of the initiative, extending protected class status provisions to individuals based upon their chosen type of employment – first responders, health care providers, and teachers are all called out specifically – is a clear attempt to confuse voters and garner sympathetic votes. When was the last time someone had their tenancy terminated because they were a teacher or a first responder?

Most importantly, however, is that a primary role of landlords is to provide safe and healthy housing for their renters. Just Cause protections put the rights of criminal offenders ahead of the rights of their victims and neighbors.

This issue in Federal Way should be considered a concern for all landlords in the state as “just cause” is likely to receive consideration in other jurisdictions in South King County as we move towards the 2020 state legislative session. WACAN is likely to repeat this process in other cities as a means of forcing the state legislature to act on the issue. In fact, among the arguments made at court, WACAN submitted a declaration stating that if they’re successful in Federal Way they intend to raise "at least $500,000" for similar initiatives next year.

RHAWA membership support on this issue is critical as we push forward in defending our policy solutions which target creating more housing for all income levels.