Tacoma Measure 1 Makes it Even Harder to Evict a Violent Tenant

Posted By: Tim Hatley Government,

Tacoma Measure 1 will make it more difficult to evict a dangerous, destructive, or disruptive tenant and one provision even prohibits the eviction of a certain class of tenant from ever being evicted. For example, anyone over 65 or a member of their family can never be evicted under Measure 1. So, if someone over 65 has their 35-year-old son living with them who was dealing drugs, and threatening other tenants, you couldn’t evict either one of them.

Most rental housing providers never have to go through the eviction process, nor do they want to.  With the Tacoma Measure 1 potentially creating a whole new class of tenants who could never be evicted, it would be good to get a refresher on the challenges of evicting dangerous, destructive, and disruptive tenants.  

For that, I turned to Christopher Cutting, a leading Landlord/Tenant Attorney in Washington State and a member of the Executive Committee of the Rental Housing Association of Washington.
Q:    Christopher, why is so hard to evict such problem tenants?
A:    Here's my lawyer's take on why it’s hard to evict violent tenants: For-cause termination laws require a housing provider to be able to prove in court that a tenant is engaged in criminal activity. Proving someone is engaged in criminal actions is generally the duty of law enforcement and done at public expense, but a housing provider must do this himself or herself at his or her own expense. In court, the dangerous resident is provided with a public defender at no cost to him or her regardless of the outcome of the case.

Law enforcement has a wide array of tools available to them to investigate criminal activity and prove that activity in court. Police officers carry guns, wear bullet-resistant vests, can use undercover agents or anonymous informants, can obtain search warrants to enter a home without advance notice, and can seize evidence of criminal activity among many other tools. Housing providers have access to none of these resources. When law enforcement charges someone with a violent crime, they can arrest that dangerous criminal, hold him or her in custody away from his or her victims, require the dangerous criminal to post bail to ensure compliance with court orders pending trial, and can obtain restraining orders preventing the dangerous criminal from having contact with any of his or her alleged victims. Housing providers have access to none of these tools.

Housing providers are required to give most offenders a formal warning and can only remove them from the property if they commit a second offense. Housing providers are required to tell the dangerous criminal every fact they have learned about the crime, including the names and contact information of all victims, and wait weeks or months before having a first court hearing. During this time, the dangerous criminal is allowed to continue living in the property, next to the dangerous criminal's victims, while in possession of information about what they told the landlord.

When seeking witnesses to cooperate with a housing provider's investigation of criminal activity, the housing provider is obliged to tell anyone who cooperates that their names and contact info will be given to the dangerous criminal before that dangerous criminal can be required to move, usually meaning the cooperating victim must keep living next to the dangerous criminal for weeks or months after the dangerous criminal learns about this cooperation. This is the opposite of what law enforcement is allowed to do, where they keep all this information, including witnesses' identities and statements secret until the dangerous criminal is arrested and a court order is issued protecting the cooperating victims.

To prevent abuse by housing providers, most procedures available for a housing provider to terminate a tenancy based on criminal activity require that the dangerous criminal is arrested before the housing provider can terminate the tenancy. (E.g. RCW 59.18.180(4)) Because of staff shortages and reductions in funding for law enforcement, it is rare that someone is arrested for weeks or months after an offense occurs. Unless the criminal act and the termination notice are very close in time, it is rare that a court will view a violent crime as serious enough to justify terminating someone's tenancy..

Thanks, Christopher for the explanation. One can see why most rental housing providers never want to have to go through the eviction process, let alone when you must deal with a dangerous or threatening situation. Tacoma Measure 1 will make managing rental property even more challenging and likely lead to small housing providers leaving the market.