Recent Developments with RHAWA's Legal Defense Fund
RHAWA’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) has had to increase its focus on legal battles in order to protect the rights of housing providers. In the last few years, the number of onerous regulations on housing providers has increased exponentially. Provided here is an update on where things stand on the various legal challenges RHAWA has filed or supported.
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Seattle Winter Eviction Ban
In the beginning of COVID-19, in early 2020, Seattle passed an eviction ban lasting through 6 months after the civil emergency and a permanent eviction ban during the winter months. RHAWA’s LDF challenged these ordinances shortly after they passed.
The legal challenge was partially successful. The 6-month eviction ban was invalidated based on the fact that the ban only required a self-certification by the tenant and was unchallengeable by the housing provider. The interest on unpaid re nt was ruled as preempted under the State Constitution.
Status: Law partially overruled
Burien Just Cause
Burien passed BMC 5.63 in 2019, enacting Just Cause along with other regulations, drawing this legal challenge from RHAWA LDF. The case was initially dismissed in trial Court. RHAWA filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals ruled in August 2022 to uphold the trial courts ruling.
Status: Law Upheld
Federal Way Just Cause
A ballot initiative in 2019 enacted just cause in the city of Federal Way. The ballot initiative enacted a just cause ordinance and had heavy penalties for any violations. RHAWA sued on this on the same grounds as the Burien Just Cause.
The Superior Court upheld the law, which RHAWA has appealed. RHAWA recently decided to limit the scope of our appeal in order to quicken the appeal process.
Status: In appeal
First in Time
The law required housing providers to rent to the first qualified applicant and precluded housing providers from using any rational judgment in the screening process outside of minimum stated screening criteria. This included an inability to lower criteria for underqualified applicants who may have been moving past some prior issue.
The City of Seattle’s First in Time ordinance was challenged nearly immediately after being passed unanimously by City Council in 2016. The initial legal challenge was successful in overturning the ordinance.
The King County Superior Court ruling was appealed, and the State Supreme Court ruled to uphold the law. Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) was the organization representing the landlord plaintiffs, a list which includes RHAWA members.
Status: Law Upheld by the State Supreme Court
Criminal Records Screening
Passed unanimously by Seattle City Council in August 2017, and enforced since February 2018, the ordinance effectively bans landlords from accessing and considering an applicants’ criminal records history and information as a part of the tenant screening process at properties in the city.
RHAWA and PLF have partnered to challenge this ordinance, with RHAWA serving as plaintiff against the city in the case. The challenge is based upon our assertions that it violates the due process and free speech provisions of the Washington and U.S. Constitutions.
It’s important for our membership to understand that RHAWA’s advocacy team spent months on this issue attempting to find compromise and that the city roundly ignored the concerns of our membership. Recidivism data indicates that re-entry to society is difficult and requires an actual supportive services system that landlords are not equipped to provide.
Status: Law Upheld
RHAWA has filed amicus briefs in several other lawsuits deemed to have a relatable impact to our membership. An amicus brief is a legal statement filed by a non-litigant in support of one side of a legal argument. The briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider. As an organization representing landlords, we can provide further details and considerations in an amicus which might not have been otherwise heard due to the lawsuit not directly involving rental housing.
This ordinance created a property tax in the city which funds $100 in rental vouchers per registered voter in the city. Candidates for office are allowed to select if they’ll take public funding for their campaign which allows them to intake the vouchers.
The program is funded by property taxes paid by members who may not have the opportunity to vote in the city, in addition to being an additional operating expense which increases overall rental housing costs in the city. The program has had more than $2 million in administrative costs to distribute $1 million in vouchers.
Seattle Income Tax
RHAWA joined a coalition supporting an amicus opposing Seattle’s income tax law due to its direct impact on the property of our membership. Under the law, money derived from a sale of property was deemed as income and subject to the city’s tax.
County Franchise Tax for Utilities
This case involves King County charging “rent” for the use of public rights-of-way, claiming it has jurisdiction to enact charges for private utilities to deliver service (in some cases the land is actually private).