Local Rental Housing Regulation Watch

Posted By: Tim Hatley Advocacy, Government, Law, Seattle Laws,

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 and rental housing providers and managers are an important group at both the State and local level that we provide a vital service to our communities. Contact Tim Hatley at (206) 905-0601 or at thatley@RHAwa.org. 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.

On November 6, 2023, voters in Bellingham approved new tenant protection measures in addition to recently passed 120 days’ advance notice of rent increases rental housing providers must provide relocation assistance if a rent increase is imposed of 8% or more.  

The relocation assistance must equal the sum of three times Bellingham’s current fair-market monthly rent as defined by the U.S. housing and Urban Development metrics, or three times that tenant’s existing monthly rent, whichever is larger, according to the proposal. This new voter-approved mandate becomes effective on January 27, 2024.

Housing providers in Bellingham will also see their registration fees double, as part of a revamp of an 8-year-old rental inspection program.  

The current fee schedule gives rental housing providers a free pass for the first failed inspection but charges them $50 for all subsequent re-inspections. That will change to $100 for the first failed inspection, $200 for the second and $500 for the third. The fees for missed appointments will also increase incrementally under the new system.

After the changes take effect, owners of 20 units or less will pay $20 per unit, with larger buildings costing $16 per unit in annual registration fees. Relocation assistance and  fee increases become effective January 1, 2024.

Federal Way 
Proponents of new legislation requiring a 180 notice for any rent increase and imposing a $10 late fee cap attended a City Council Committee meeting advocating on behalf of the proposal. A spokesperson for the group claimed they had the support of 10 different community organizations including the Low-Income Housing Coalition and Solid Ground. While no legislation has yet been introduced, efforts by tenant advocates to push new regulations is ongoing.

The Washington Business Properties Association (WBPA) filed a suit in late August in King County Superior Court against the City of Kenmore. They seek declaratory relief over municipal ordinances that "conflict with and are preempted by state law and that improperly place unconstitutional burdens infringing upon the rights of rental housing providers to enter into and enforce the terms of residential lease relationships with tenants."

Specifically, the WBPA takes issue with two ordinances that were enacted by the City in 2022 as a suite of tenant protections. They aim to enshrine into city law "just cause eviction protection," capping fees and deposits, increasing notice for rent hikes, authorizing tenant payment plans and banning "abusive, deceptive, and unfair practices in rental housing."

The WBPA claims these ordinances are poorly written and run afoul of the state law.

On November 14, The Olympia City Council approved an ordinance establishing a rental housing registry and inspection program, which requires all rental property owners in the city to register their properties annually and undergo periodic health and safety inspections.

Rental properties will be required to register annually with the City and obtain a business license from the Department of Revenue. Every rental property will be required to undergo an inspection by a third party (certified by the City) once every 5 years.

Property owners will pay a per unit fee ($35/unit proposed fee) and pay for a business license. They will select and contract a third-party inspector from the City’s pre-approved list to complete the inspection of their units. A reinspection may be required if there are deficiencies or repairs that need to be completed. If serious safety concerns arise and property is deemed uninhabitable, property owners may be required to pay relocation assistance to tenants who are displaced.  

The City Council passed its 2024 Budget and implemented two amendments concerning rental housing. One would appropriate $50,000 to convene a tenant workgroup on strategies to protect the health and well-being of Seattle renters, including the potential of a new office dedicated to enforcing current laws and establishing new laws, requirements, and standards related to renters. A second amendment proposes a reporting requirement to collect data on rental rates and other information about the units (e.g., size of unit) for housing subject to the Renal Registration and Inspection Ordinance. 

First addressing the new tenant workgroup, it is disappointing to see the city City Council devoting additional taxpayer funds to a workgroup which implies a clear lack of balance for rental housing providers. In addition, the Renters Rights Committee should encompass and address the matters that this tenant work group claims to be targeting. Furthermore, the passage of additional reporting requirements is simply an example of pushing failed City Council policy through the budget process. In the amendment notes it is stated that this is the exact same policy that was presented by Alex Pedersen and vetoed by Mayor Harrel last year. It is unfortunate the city council decided to push this policy without addressing any of the issues that resulted in its initial failures. The City of Seattle continues to use taxpayer dollars to punish housing providers and recent budget amendments reinforce this. On the bright side, it is likely the new Seattle City Council in 2024 will begin to mend this situation and understand the value of their small housing providers. 

There is an effort underway for new tenant protection measures including:
•    Requiring 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 for the purpose of screening prospective tenants.

The Shoreline City Council adopted new Residential Tenant Protection measures on December 11, 2023.   These new requirements include:
•    Increased notice period for certain rent increases, 
•    Limits to move-in fees, security deposits and late fees, 
•    Ability for tenant to request different rent due dates if primary income source is provided via governmental assistance, and 
•    No requirement to provide a Social Security number for tenant screening. 

These new regulations will be effective at the beginning of 2024.

The City of Spokane’s new online rental registry opened on Friday, December 1, 2023. 

All rental properties must be registered either by rental housing providers, property managers or agents of the owner by Sunday, December 31, 2023. In future years, the registration window for rentals will be open in November and December for the following year.

The City’s goal of the rental property registry is to obtain property information, organize contact information for responsible parties, to gather data and streamline reporting. Additionally, the registry will help facilitate routine, periodic inspections, and compliance efforts.  

The new law requires business licenses for owners/operators of rental properties. The business license has an annual fee of $127. Licenses for rental properties are obtained through the Washington State Department of Revenue. The ordinance also establishes a $15 per rental unit fee that will be paid as a part of the rental registry application. The initial inspection and initial re-inspection (if needed) that are conducted by Code Enforcement staff will not have a fee. However, if subsequent inspections are needed at specific properties due to violations not being adequately addressed, additional safety inspection fees may be assessed. Voluntary compliance is the goal for any deficiencies observed.

Spokane voters also selected a new mayor in November when they elected Lisa Brown to replace incumbent Mayor Nadine Woodward. Lisa Brown is a former State Senator and served as Governor Jay Inslee’s director of the Washington State Department of Commerce.

With the passage of Tacoma Measure 1 a series of new rental restrictions measures took effect December 8, 2023. These new restrictions include relocation assistance for rent increases of 5% or more; 210-day notice for any rent increases; prohibits school year and cold-weather evictions; caps fees; prohibits evictions of seniors, first responders, military, health care providers and members of their families.

But the new Landlord Fairness Code Initiative won’t be enforced by the city of Tacoma. Instead, tenants will have to take their rental housing provider to court to contest alleged violations of any of the new changes that went into effect on December 8, 2023.