Washington’s New Democratic Senate Majority Enacting Eviction and Rent Increase Reforms in Olympia

Posted By: Heather Pierce Advocacy , Law ,

RHAWA Advocacy Team

The rental housing industry is faced with a broad political coalition that has been forming throughout the Puget Sound to pursue legislation that seeks to dramatically reform the landlord-tenant relationship. Many voters understand that the price of rent is high compared to wages in urban areas, and while the amount of actual evictions remains very low, many policymakers in the Puget Sound-area adamantly believe reforming the legal process for removing a tenant from a rental property will best address housing displacement for low-income tenants.

While the chief policy goal of the eviction reform bills is to significantly increase the notification period for nonpayment of rent, the bills also contain many other changes to the eviction process and the landlord-tenant relationship. SB 5600 (sponsored by Dem. Senator Patty Kuderer from the 48th district in Kirkland), and HB 1453 (sponsored by Dem. Representative Nicole Macri from the 43rd district in Seattle) both contain policies that would limit the amount of attorney's fees and late fees allowed in an unlawful detainer judgment, create a definition of rent that separates recurring fees and utilities in the rental agreement from other fees and costs, require that landlords apply payments to rent first before other costs and fees, limit a landlord’s ability to bring an eviction for charges other than rent, and create new processes in eviction law for tenant’s to reinstate a tenancy through judicial discretion payment plans for nonpayment of rent.

RHAWA and other industry advocates continue to argue that these increased regulations will create further cost burdens on landlords who have not received rent owed, and those costs will be reflected in increased rents for tenants. And with all the intense focus on the eviction process by the advocates for SB 5600 / HB 1453, there has been little discussion about the deeper issue of rent burden that causes tenants to fall behind in rent.
SB 5600 / HB 1453 were amended to create a fund out of the state capital budget to pay off eviction judgments that receive judicial discretion reinstatement. This money would allow landlords to take their judgments for nonpayment of rent to the Department of Commerce for payment. While many of the regulations in these bills will be burdensome on housing providers, some legislators understand that housing affordability for rent burdened tenants is a societal issue that must be addressed with significant public and private funding. Allowing for state funding of subsidies for tenants who can’t afford their rent is a reasonable way to relieve pressure on living costs, without driving small landlords out of the market.

The bills also contain some practical educational and plain-language updates to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) that the industry supports, like setting out the standard form of the “pay or vacate” notice in statute, requiring state government to offer translations of critical notices from landlords to tenants in several languages, and updating the form of the summons and complaint for an unlawful detainer to be better understood by all parties. Both SB 5600 and HB 1453 moved through the legislative process with large margins of support. RHAWA will continue to work for the most reasonable policy outcomes possible in a very difficult political climate for our industry.

Two more bills impacting notice periods passed through the legislature including HB 1440 and HB 1462. HB 1440 requires rental owners to provide 60-day notice to give a rent increase. Rep. Andrew Barkis (R - 2nd district in Yelm) sponsored HB 1462 which passed both chambers with bi-partisan support and requires that a rental property owner give renters a 120-day notice when a building is to be demolished, substantially rehabilitated or changed in use.

All changes to the RLTA will take effect June 30, 2019. The Rental Housing Association of Washington is already preparing curriculum for members to sign up for a new course offering that will review changes to the RLTA in-depth, please register when the course becomes available.