Washington State 2020 Legislative Session Update

Posted By: Heather Pierce (deleted) Advocacy,

The Washington State Legislature is entering a new phase of the legislative process as it moves rapidly towards concluding its 60-day session. The Legislature has passed a critical committee cutoff, where all policy bills that have not been voted out of committee will no longer be available for consideration in this Legislature. RHAWA Government Affairs team is advocating in opposition to several new policy proposals that will increase both risks and costs to small providers of rental housing:

HB 2520

HB 2520 will mandate that property owners produce meticulous documentation and account for depreciation of all damaged items in the unit, to justify withholding of any portion of a tenant’s security deposit. While best practice is to provide as much information as possible to tenants about the costs of repairs, mandating the unachievable standards found in HB 2520 will make it impossible for small operators to return accurate bids from contractors before the statutory 21 day requirement to return a deposit.

HB 2453

HB 2453 would create a statewide policy that would force housing providers to offer a mandatory lease renewal unless the property owner could prove a just cause. This policy would be devastating to small operators who need the flexibility of offering lease terms that fit their communities’ and families’ needs. Forcing automatic lease renewal would put our RHAWA members in the difficult position of deciding whether to hold their units out for rent in perpetuity or take the unit out of the available housing stock. The bill would also force property owners to give the rights and responsibilities of tenants to roommates and guests.

SB 6490

SB 6490 would have prevented the use of all criminal records in tenant screening. The Seattle-style criminal records ban would have stopped a property owner from knowing the criminal history of a prospective tenants. The prohibition of viewing criminal records could seriously impact a housing provider’s ability to adequately protect the health, safety, and welfare of other tenants, family, and employees. The combined effect of this policy and HB 2453’s mandatory lease renewal without Just Cause would exponentially increase the financial and safety risks posed to many small housing providers ill-equipped to handle difficult legal and behavior situations. Without proper tools for housing providers to become informed on the nature of residents and reasonable abilities to remove tenants who present dangerous behavior, small and local housing providers will be forced to continue to remove their properties from the available housing stock.

After significant lobbying by RHAWA’s advocacy team, alongside small property managers and owners, who have faced dangerous situations with guests and tenants during their work providing housing in their community, SB 6490 was not brought up for a vote in committee, and will not be considered further in 2020. While a bill will not pass in 2020, there is significant work to be done on this policy, to better balance a historically prejudicial criminal justice system with the safety concerns of local communities, and the need to protect a deeply underserved rental housing market in western Washington.

SB 6378

SB 6378 would remove previously negotiated provisions from last year’s bill, SSB 5600, which increased the pay-or-vacate notice to 14 days and mandated that tenants can have their tenancies reinstated in court through payment plans. A critical negotiated policy has been reversed in the new bill. Tenants with demonstrable patterns of late payment before the 14th day of the month were regulated by a provision that restricts the use of reinstatement in an eviction if a tenant continually receives pay-or-vacate notices during the tenancy. While there is a significant issue of a very small number of tenants who do not receive their rental subsidies until a few days into the month, agreed upon provisions addressing this scenario (which RHAWA would support) already exist in the new bill.

There is no reason to go back on a critically negotiated agreement by all sides, and RHAWA will continue to oppose any bill that removes a fundamental part of an agreed upon policy, especially without working to address the legitimate underlying issue of some tenants continually paying the rent on the 13th day of the month. RHAWA spent hundreds of hours painstakingly negotiating these polices in 2019, and opposes drastic changes to a complex agreement, less than six months after implementation, particularly when the justification of the changes appears punitive and without basis.

RHAWA is most concerned about these bills, but there are many other dangerous policies aimed at a small provider’s ability to exist in the housing market. The Government Affairs team needs the voices of our members now more than ever to fight the broad media and organizational pushes to demonize property ownership in our state. RHAWA is full of engaging and responsible entrepreneurs whose experience and values are desperately needed in the public conversation. Please consider joining our Advocacy Center and become a friendly face for our industry. If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to get directly involved in our efforts, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.