Local Rental Housing Regulation Watch -05

Posted By: Tim Hatley Advocacy, 2024 Legislative Session,

The Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA) is working hard to keep track of the ever-changing landscape of rental housing regulation in various jurisdictions across Washington State. Feedback from the membership regarding these issues, or any other issue not mentioned below, is welcomed, and encouraged. Member participation in local government affairs is vital to letting the government know RHAWA, rental housing providers and managers are an important group at both the State and local level because we provide a vital service to our communities. Contact Tim Hatley at (206) 905-0601 or at thatley@RHAwa.org with any questions. If you would like to get involved in any of our advocacy efforts, contact Daniel Bannon at (206) 905-0609 or at dbannon@RHAwa.org.

As predicted last month, we are already seeing various local jurisdictions proposing new rental housing restrictions for discussion and introduced for consideration.  A major theme we are seeing percolating amongst various jurisdictions relates to rental housing standards and the move to more rental registration programs. 

In addition, most every local jurisdiction, pursuant to the Washington State’s Growth Management Act, are required to update their Growth Management Comprehensive Plans to accommodate for sufficient growth and meet other mandates specified by the state.  Most all of these plans have discussion of how to better protect rental housing.  Some speak to the need to balance housing provider and tenant protections, most lean toward tenant protection measures only.  As an illustration, nearly a dozen cities passed resolutions over the past two months endorsing removing the prohibition against local rent control as the state was considering such legislation. 

As a result of much anticipated local government activity this summer and fall, major political activity, and in preparation for the 2025/2026 State legislative agenda RHAWA staff will continue to host regular zoom meetings to keep active members updated on the latest intel and help develop and implement our approach with local and state advocacy.  Please stay tuned.

Despite the adoption of the doubling of rental registration fees and mandatory rental inspection in February, tenant advocates are now demanding a “complete overhaul’ of the program.   This is in addition to a recently passed city ballot measure to provide relocation assistance for tenants, amongst other rental restrictive measures.   

“The (rental registration program) has been such a failure for the past eight years,” said Rebecca Quirke of the local advocacy group Tenants Revolt. “(The city) needs to get with the times. This needs to be completely redone.”, as quoted in the March 10, 2024, Bellingham Herald.
Federal Way  

A recent roof collapse at a Federal Way apartment complex has once again spurred conversation of past efforts by the city to consider a rental registration and inspection program.  This is in addition to efforts already underway by local tenant advocates who are lobbying the city council for a 120-day notice provision for rent increases and a $10 cap on fees.

At the January 27, 2024, meeting of the Olympia city council, members directed staff to research and draft policy for a relocation assistance program and forward to the city council.  The council also gave directions to staff to move forward with recommendations to council on limitation on junks fees, right to air conditioning, and the ability to break a lease if rent increases are proposed at 5% or greater.  Staff was directed to research recent laws adopted by Tacoma and Bellingham as guidance. 

This ordinance was initially brought for discussion at the March 19 council meeting with many members giving public comments against the ordinance. Further discussion and a vote was taken at the council meeting on April 9th. The ordinance passed unanimously after further input from the public and lengthy deliberation by city council members. The ordinance was passed with a few amendments. 

•    Documents about the new ordinance to be given to tenants at lease signing and prohibiting any fees to be collected that are not included in the lease. 

•    Family member language for lease terms to be updated to include aunt, uncle, and adoption. 

•    The lease break option when rent is raised more than 5% was changed from 20 days to 30 days. 

•    The relocation assistance eligibility was initially set for rent being raised 5% or more. That threshold was moved to 7% or more, but the assistance will now be 2.5 months rent instead of 2 months. The 10% threshold and 3 months rent was removed from the language. There will be no AMI requirement for economic relocation assistance. The rental assistance may be paid out over a 12-month period. 

•    A late fee of $10 and a limit on move in fees being no higher than one month’s rent. 

•    Tenants will have the right to install cooling devices between April 1 and October 1. 

This new ordinance goes into effect on May 9, 2024 barring any delays by city regulators.

At the March 4, 2024, meeting of the Renton City Council, a motion was proposed by Renton City Council Member Kim-Khanh Van to request staff to draft a Renters Protection 
Ordinance and bring it back to the council within 30-days.  The motion failed with two AYES and five NOES.

However, the city is pursuing the consideration of a Rental Registration Program and are working with surrounding jurisdictions to identify “best practices” and will seek to use the program to collect data to inform them on potential future decisions regarding rental protection measures.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell transmitted his Draft One Seattle Plan, a major update to Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan that will shape how our city will grow over the next 20 years. Part of Mayor Harrell’s bold One Seattle Housing Agenda, the Draft Plan proposes allowing new types of housing across the city, bringing missing middle housing to every neighborhood, and expanding density with a focus on areas near light rail and rapid transit. With a focus on preventing displacement, the proposal encourages needed affordable housing and will enhance neighborhoods with accessible retail and amenities.

The City Council is discussing an ordinance that would raise the rent increase notice period to 180 days. RHAWA will keep an eye on the proceedings and keep everyone up to date.  

Spokane will have a very active election environment this fall as Senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane) majority leader of the Washington State Senate, Senator Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), and US Congress Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, announced their intentions to not seek re-election this fall setting off a scramble for both their seats.  Immediately after Sen. Billig announced intention, state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, (D-Spokane) sent an email to his supporters announcing his plans to run for Billig’s seat.  Soon after, prominent Spokane progressives Ben Stuckart and Natasha Hill declared they’d run to replace Riccelli in the state House. 

Riccelli, Stuckart and Hill had previously been floated as potential Democrats who might run for the congressional seat vacated by McMorris Rodgers. Each eventually decided against it. Washington's 3rd Legislative District, which mostly covers the city of Spokane, is reliably blue, but the 5th Congressional District, which covers the eastern third of Washington, is reliably red. When Hill ran against McMorris Rodgers as a Democrat in 2022, she lost by nearly 20 points. Billig was also floated as a potential Democrat who could run for the 5th District but told local reporters last month he was not interested.

At a city council meeting near the end of March, representatives from the Transit Riders Union made public comment requesting last years draft ordinance to be brought forth again with the new city council. However, the union representatives expressed they do not feel the ordinance goes far enough. The representative went on to say if the Tukwila City Council does not act, they may consider a ballot initiative. The ordinance will start back in committee at the end of April, and we’ll be watching to see the progress. The proposal in question would: 

•    Require rental housing providers to provide written summaries of rights and obligations. 

•    Capping upfront costs over and above the first month’s rent at a total of one month's rent, with a right to pay in installments over six months (or two months for leases shorter than six months); 

•    Prohibiting the collection of a security deposit by a rental housing provider unless a rental agreement is in writing and a written checklist or statement describing the condition of the unit is provided to the tenant; 

•    Capping late fees at 1.5% of monthly rent; 

•    Allowing renters on fixed incomes to adjust the rent due date to better align with their payments; and 

•    Removing social security number requirements to screen prospective tenants. 

The Tukwila City Council is actively seeking your comments and can be contacted by email citycouncil@tukwila.gov 

At the March 5, 2024 meeting, the Snohomish County Council and staff reviewed the work elements for the county’s 2204 Comprehensive Plan update and noted a major work plan program was the development of a rental assistance program.  RHAWA will closely monitor developments in this program and offer appropriate support.