Daniel Bannon | Grassroots Organizer
With Legislative Session still underway, your RHAWA Government Affairs team is hard at work fighting to maintain your rights as small housing providers at the state level. Many of you have helped with our statewide advocacy efforts this year and we are so grateful for your support. However, it is important to keep in mind that changes to rental laws in your local governments continue to come up even during Legislative Sessions. Bellingham, Burien, SeaTac, Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma have all either discussed or implemented renter protections or housing restrictions in 2023. As RHAWA strives to keep you updated on all changes in rental laws big and small, this article will provide a comprehensive update on all recent local changes.
The City of Bellingham is following in the footsteps of cities in King County by voting in favor of renter protections on February 27. The policies in Bellingham are quite similar to policies already present in Seattle as well as the rest of King County. Specifically, Bellingham City Council voted to enact a 120-day rent increase notice period. The Bellingham City Council voted unanimously in favor of these renter protections. These policies will be discussed in City Council for a final time on the March 14 where it is likely this policy will pass, as well the potential discussion of other renter protections.
In the City of Burien, multiple renter’s protections were passed in October of 2022. These renter’s protections are in line with the most invasive policies seen in other cities in the King County region. Like other cities, Burien added language to their municipal code prohibiting housing providers from ending a tenancy unless there was a just cause to end the tenancy. This applied to the end of a lease term as well, effectively creating perpetual leases that would not be allowed to naturally expire at the end of a term. This created an issue as requiring just cause at the end of a lease term is a conflict with a housing provider's rights under state law.
After a lengthy discussion, the Burien City Council removed one line from their Burien Municipal Code. The line that was removed stated: “[A Housing Provider may not] refuse to renew or continue the rental agreement after the expiration of the rental agreement” (Ordinance 811)
While RHAWA is pleased that the Burien City Council is attempting to bring their renter protections in line with state law, this minor revision does not allow us to safely assume that Burien housing providers will be able to serve a Non-Renewal End of Term notice without a just cause. The BMC still states: “Owners of housing units shall not evict or attempt to evict any tenant, or otherwise terminate or attempt to terminate the tenancy of any tenant [without Just Cause]” (BMC 5.63). RHAWA believes that this language will still restrict a housing provider's ability to serve a Non-Renewal End of Term notice without a just cause.
The City of SeaTac is hosting a community meeting on the 10th of March to gather input from both Housing Providers and Residents regarding their suite of ARCH style renter’s protections.
The protections that will be discussed include:
- Requirement that landlords give renters a summary of all the existing rules in state and federal law that a landlord and a renter must follow. This summary will be prepared by SeaTac staff and will provide information related to:
- Maintenance of rental homes.
- Responsibilities of renters.
- The rights of landlords and renters.
- The move-in fee does not have to be paid all at once. The total amount of the move-in fee cannot be more than one month’s rent.
- If a renter is renting for six months or more, the move-in fee can be paid over the first six months.
- If a renter is renting for less than six months, half the move-in fee can be paid at move-in. The other half is paid on the first day of the second month.
- If the rent payment is late, the “late fees” cannot be more than ten dollars ($10).
- Before increasing rent, landlords must tell their renters:
- 120 days beforehand if the rent will increase by more than three percent (3%).
- 180 days beforehand if the rent will increase by more than ten percent (10%).
- A landlord cannot require a social security number from a renter or a prospective renter.
- Just Cause evictions: Actions by the renter. A just cause reason for eviction exists if the renter:
- Does not pay rent for 14-days after receiving notice that rent is past due.
- Repeatedly fails to pay rent on time (four or more times in a 12-month period).
- Breaks a term in the rental agreement (e.g., does not remove trash from the rental unit) and does not comply within 10-days.
- Repeatedly fails to meet terms in the rental agreement (three or more times in a 12-month period).
- Engages in drug-related or criminal activity.
- Resigns from a job working on the property, which was the reason the landlord rented the unit to the renter.
- Just Cause evictions: The owner/landlord. A just cause reason for eviction exists if the landlord or owner:
- Intends to renovate the building, provides 120-days’ notice to the renter, and obtains a construction permit for the work.
- Intends to demolish the building or intends to convert the building to a non-residential use, provides 120 days’ notice to the renter, and obtains a permit for the work.
- Must halt use of the unit to comply with zoning, building, public safety, or emergency orders by the City of SeaTac (e.g., the building is unsafe to occupy).
- Currently lives in the rental unit with the renter and wants the renter to move out.
This Community Meeting came about after the SeaTac City Council determined they had not adequately consulted both Housing Provider and Resident stakeholder groups.
The City of Seattle discussed a cap on late fees in their City Council Meeting on Friday, March 17. The original proposed ordinance would implement a $10 cap on all late fees. Amendments to this ordinance were presented which would allow for a 1.5% cap on late fees, which is consistent with other cities in King County. The amendments also noted that means testing should be involved in the cap on late fees. Therefore, this late fee cap will only apply in tenancies where the resident’s income is below 80% AMI.
In the City of Spokane, some renter’s protections were unanimously passed on February 27, while others passed with a split vote.
The provisions that were passed unanimously included:
- $25 fee per residential rental unit per year for each residential rental unit owned by the same legal entity in excess of twenty-five residential rental units.
- Owners of residential rental housing units are required to register every rental unit and its street address located in the City of Spokane annually and certify that each property meets the requirements of RCW 59.18.060.
The provisions that passed with a 5-3 split vote included:
- Requirement to accept portable background and credit checks.
- Portable screening reports are valid for 90 days.
- City of Spokane is authorized to use monies from the Legal Services and Relocation Fund to contract with another entity to provide attorney services for tenant legal services and mediation costs.
- The department of Community, Housing and Human Services is authorized to operate a rental property mitigation program, which is intended to assist in the repair of residential rental properties that are damaged during a tenancy and where damage occurs through no fault of the landlord.
- Requirement of a Housing Provider to make all necessary repairs to keep the premises in habitable condition as defined by the Spokane Municipal Code before a tenant may occupy the unit.
- Requirement to provide a voter registration form, a change of address form, and a tenant information packet about tenant rights and responsibilities to residents.
- Requirement of Housing Providers to inform residents of any mold, sale of property or methamphetamine contamination.
- Requirement to maintain all move-in and move-out inspection records for at least three years.
The City of Tacoma has proposed several changes to their Rental Housing Code (RHC) and will host several meetings throughout the month of March to gather community input on these changes.
The proposed changes to Tacoma’s RHC include:
- Rent Increase Notice
Update the notice requirements for rent increase based on percentage of increase. Possible requirements include:
- 6% or less: 60 days written notice.
- 6-10%: 90 days written notice
- 10+%: 180-220 days (6-7 months) written notice.
- Update the service requirements for rent increase notices.
- Written notice must be served in accordance with RCW 59.12.040.
- Landlord cannot charge for rent increase notice to be served.
- Provide options to tenants who cannot afford the rental increase and needs to vacate unit.
- Waive requirement for tenant to serve a proper 20-day written notice to vacate or tenant will not be penalized if tenant vacates based on the rent increase.
- Shared Housing Standards
- Require master lease holder provide contact information for the sublet tenants and the property owner at time of tenancy.
- Require separate leases when renting to four or more tenants.
- Require lease to state the legal number of occupants and habitable spaces in unit.
- Require housing providers to serve any notices that can lead to eviction to all sublet tenants at the time the master lease holder is served.
- Prohibit housing providers from starting the Unlawful Detainer Action (eviction) if they cannot show notices were served to all sublet tenants.
It is important to note that while RHAWA is supportive of finding solutions for shared housing issues, some of the solutions currently presented will cause significant administrative burden to housing providers.
- Late Fee Standards
Possible policy requirements include:
- Require housing providers to actively take steps to recover late fees during tenancy, serving monthly or quarterly notices.
- Prohibit housing providers who do not address late fees during tenancy from reporting them to a prospective housing provider at the end of tenancy.
- Limits to amount of late fees a housing provider can charge as outlined in RLTA: Possible caps:
- Cap late fee to $75 as outlined in Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18, RLTA) OR
- Cap late fee to 3% to 5% of monthly rental amount.
- Restriction of Evictions without a Rental Business License
Policy would ensure anyone operating a rental business in the Tacoma city limits is complying with City policies, which requires all rentals to have a rental business license. It will ensure that housing providers are given the opportunity to provide input on all policies as the City uses the Rental Business License as an outreach tool. Possible policy requirement include:
- Require a housing provider to attach a copy of Rental Business License to the Show Cause hearing paperwork.
- Screening Criteria
Possible policy requirements:
- Limits on the rent to income ratio (ex 3x monthly rent).
- Limit on rent to income ratio on tenants who are on a fixed income (SSI, SSD, or retirement benefits).
- Restrict housing providers from requiring a social security number to apply for housing.
- Restrict housing providers from having a blanket criminal history policy.
The City of Tacoma will host 3 events regarding these proposed changes throughout the month of March. These events will include a presentation about proposed Rental Housing Code changes and updates and breakout session. Participants will be able to provide their feedback and comments as well as ask questions.
- March 23: Rental Housing Code In-Person Event
- This event will include a presentation about proposed Rental Housing Code changes and updates and breakout session.
- Participants will be able to provide their feedback and comments as well as ask questions.
- March 29 at 12-1:30pm or 5:30-7pm via Zoom: Housing Providers Virtual Session for Proposed Update to the Rental Housing Code
- March 30, 5:30-7pm via Zoom: Renters and Housing Advocate Virtual Session for Proposed Update to the Rental Housing Code
RHAWA will provide resources to its membership to allow them to attend these meetings as easily as possible. It is crucial to assist our members in sharing their perspectives and experiences with lawmakers.