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Issues + Lobbying Efforts

We build relationships with policymakers to ensure a seat at the table, to advocate and protect the rights of landlords, and work towards common-sense solutions for our region’s housing needs.

RHAWA’s government affairs team includes staff, lobbyists, and member volunteers. Our team tracks issues at every level of government in Washington State to ensure that your rights as a landlord are defended from government overreach. We work for a favorable outcome to legislation that will promote the rental housing industry and protect the rental housing owner and operator.

Our strong advocacy program engages local and state agencies. We take the time to educate elected officials about the challenges facing the industry and stand up for the rights of rental property owners. RHAWA has established relationships with legislators and political leaders who open their doors to us to find fair legislative solutions to industry problems without placing undue burden upon landlords.

Housing Policy Issues

Statewide

RHAWA Position

RHAWA adamantly opposes rent control in any form.

Background

During the 1970s and 1980s, five states and the District of Columbia adopted various forms of residential rent controls, and after decades of experience with rent controls, most have abandoned them. In fact, as of 1996, 31 states had passed laws prohibiting local governments from adopting residential rent controls.

The imposition of controls on rent is of state-wide significance and is preempted by the state under RCW 35.21.830, which mandates that controls on rent for residential structures is prohibited, with specific exceptions which primarily deal with public housing.

In 1999, a bill was introduced to remove the statewide ban on rent control. It did not receive a hearing. Subsequently, the Seattle City Council adopted a legislative agenda for the 2001 session which sought to "repeal or modify RCW 35.21.830 to allow local control of rent laws." More recently, individual members on Seattle Council have voiced support for increased authority for local jurisdictions to set landlord-tenant laws.

Arguments for RHAWA Position

Market Place Implications

By distorting the market signals needed to maintain equilibrium in the market place, rent controls discourage new housing construction during periods of shortage.

In rent-controlled cities, real estate lenders either refuse to make mortgages, or charge higher interest rates, because they view the ability of a property to generate rents, the underlying security for repayment of a loan, as impaired.

Rent control schemes based upon a "reasonable return" on investment spur existing rental property owners who bought many years ago to sell out, with the new owner able to justify higher rents due to a higher purchase price.

Economic Implications

Rent controls reduce property tax collections due to depressed assessed valuations reflecting the constrained income-generating potential of rental units, while increasing demand for public housing units.

Rents are economic incentives to attract new production of rental housing, as well as maintain existing housing stock. Rent controls lead to the deterioration of existing housing units because controlled rents rarely cover all of the costs of prudent property management, especially reserves for major repairs such as new roofing, re-painting and replacing aging appliances. Building owners, forced to defer maintenance and improvements on their investment, cannot contribute to a vital, sustained economy.

Rent controls also impose high administrative costs on local jurisdictions. Cities imposing rent controls must create bureaucracies to administer them.

Social Implications

Rent controls have many side effects, including adverse consequences, for those they are intended to help most: low-income renters. Studies have shown that rent controls actually aggravate poverty and, over time, benefit the affluent. When rent is eliminated as a basis for distinguishing among potential tenants, owners rely more upon non-price factors such as credit-worthiness.

Because of rent controls, housing shortages are prolonged, leaving many poorer people permanently displaced. They are forced to relocate to remote locales in search of housing and then make longer commutes into the inner city to work, increasing demands on mass transit and exacerbating existing transportation congestion.

Tenant mobility is reduced in rent-controlled jurisdictions. Typically, people trade up to bigger and better housing as they get older. Tenants in rent-controlled units tend to stay in them even as their personal incomes grow over the years. Over time, the occupancy demographics of rent-controlled units shifts to the affluent — as housing opportunities for new, and low-income renters are unavailable due to a lack of new supply.


King County

Studying a Rental Inspection Program
Auburn Code Compliance staff has presented a report on a multifamily rental housing inspection program. The city is considering studying the adoption of a rental inspection program, but no final decisions have been made at this time.

Ordinance No. 716 Rental Housing Policies | IN EFFECT
On October 7, 2019—The Burien City Council voted unanimously to pass a suite of rental housing regulations to alongside Ordinance 715/BMC 5.62 “Rental Housing Inspection program.” After the passage of the ordinance became effective October 15. The Burien Ordinance No. 716 BMC 5.63 is currently in effect and landlords are required to comply with the law. The law is currently being litigated and RHAWA will update its membership when new information becomes available. In the interim, it is imperative that landlords comply with the rules of the ordinance.

Please review a summary of the policies included in BMC 5.63 below:

Just Cause Eviction

The ordinance restricts a landlord’s ability to terminate a tenancy except for specific reasons, including:

  • The tenant fails to comply with a 14-day pay or vacate notice, a 10-day notice to comply or vacate, a 3-day notice to terminate for waste or nuisance, or maintains an unlawful business.
  • The tenant receives four or more pay or vacate notices to the tenant within a 12-month period;
  • The tenant is served three or more 10-day notices in a 12-month period;
  • The landlord and/or immediate family member will be moving into the property (90-day notice);
  • The landlord intends to sell the property (90-day notice);
  • The tenant’s occupancy is conditioned upon employment on the property and employment is terminated;
  • Owner seeks to do substantial rehabilitation to the property and gives tenant 120-day advanced written notice (must obtain one permit to before terminating tenancy);
  • The owner seeks demolish or change the use of the property and gives the tenant a 120-day advanced written notice;
  • The owner seeks to discontinue use of a housing unit after receipt of a violation unauthorized by BMC 19;
  • The owner seeks to reduce the number of individuals residing in a dwelling unit to comply with BMC Title 15;
  • The landlord intends to discontinue use of the property as a rental.

A landlord found to be in violation of this policy they may be liable to pay up to $2,000 to the tenant in a private right of action lawsuit plus reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Copies of Law Summaries

The ordinance also requires landlords to provide prospective tenants with written rental criteria when a prospective tenant applies to reside in a dwelling unit, as well as a city-provided summary of landlord-tenant information when a rental agreement is offered whether the lease is for a new or renewal agreement. For existing tenancies, landlords have 30 days after summaries have been made available to distribute current copies to tenants.

Deposit Payment Plans

Landlords are required to accept payment plans or installment payments for security deposits, non-refundable move-in fees, and/or last month’s rent upon a tenant’s written request. The installment payment agreement must be signed by both parties with the payment period determined by the type of tenancy and length of lease term.

Notice of Intent to Sell

Rental properties with five or more dwelling units and at least one unit rented at 80% area median income per HUD standards for the Seattle-metro area must give the City notice of intent to sell the property 60 days advanced notice before listing the property with a real estate service or advertising it for sale in print or online.

Creation of a “Housing Ombudsman”

The ordinance establishes an Office of Housing Ombudsman which provides legislative oversight regarding residential housing in the City of Burien and operate as independent and impartial local office to investigate housing disputes, to direct tenants, landlords and persons to the right avenue of recourse and/or the proper venue for recourse for conflicts, and to assist in resolving problems and grievances between a landlord and a tenant.

Rental License and Inspection Program

RHAWA is a part of the stakeholder process for the development of a Federal Way rental housing inspection program and the process is expected to work through drafting legislation through the end of 2019 with an expected roll-out time period of February 2020.

Councilmember Sawant Proposals for Rental Housing Bills

Councilmember Sawant continues to hold out the possibility of introducing legislation which would require rental owners to pay three times the monthly rent to any renter who vacates after receipt of a “dramatic” increase in rent. Often referred to as the “economic eviction” ordinance and has been floated since 2017.

Also floated is an a 180-day rent increase notification bill, a large increase beyond the new state law of 60 days’ notice.

Five Landlord-Tenant Ordinances

In September, Seattle City Council took an 8-0 vote to pass five pieces of landlord-tenant related ordinances, including two Councilmember Herbold sponsored bills pertaining to roommates and domestic violence in rental housing. Notable, Mayor Durkan returned those two pieces of legislation unsigned to the City Clerk stating a desire to work on more constructive, sustainable policies that don’t unfairly burden one party or potentially create unintended legal problems for tenants moving forward. These items still become law, however, even without her signature.

  • Council Bill 119606 took effect in early November and restricts owners from refusing occupancy to an individual that a current tenant would like to have live with them if the individual is deemed to have some kind of significant relationship to the tenant. There are numerous examples of who qualifies, including a spouse or domestic partner, a former spouse or domestic partner, persons who have children in common regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together at any time, and adult persons related by blood or marriage. The ordinance also gives recognition to former relationships and dating history.
  • Council Bill 119658 relieves tenants experiencing domestic violence from any financial liability for damages to the landlord’s property. The landlord cannot withhold money from the deposit, and instead must pursue the perpetrator for the money. The city created a mitigation fund to assist owners but put several strings on it which make actual use of the funds problematic for landlords, including requiring a landlord to first make a claim against insurance which is denied.
  • Council Bill 119621 requires that a rental property owner be in compliance with Seattle’s Rental Registration and Inspection program before issuing any notice to terminate tenancy.
  • Council Bill 119619 makes it a unlawful to issue a notice to terminate tenancy, increase housing costs, or enter a unit unless the notice contains a reference to how to access information on the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords.
  • Council Bill 119620 requires that landlords provide a receipt for payment of rent when payment is made by cash, and upon request for any other form of payment (RHAWA offers members a Resident Payment Receipt form). Landlords must accept payment of rent by cash, check, or other means that do not require electronic banking.

Rent Control Hearing

In September, Councilmember Sawant held a special hearing for a rent control proposal. She was the lone committee member present at the hearing. Under her proposal, rent increases would be capped at CPI with no vacancy de-control permitted, new construction projects could not charge rent in excess of replaced units from demolished building, and a 43-member rent control board consisting 35 renters, 7 landlords, and 1 young adult would be established to govern the program.

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Pierce County

Information coming soon.

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Snohomish County

Information coming soon.

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Thurston County

“Suite of Tenant Protections”

On November 12, 2019, the Olympia City Council held a public hearing during a 6pm work session presented by attorneys and advocates from the local Housing Justice Project on policy options for adopting rental housing regulations. The regulations Olympia may consider moving forward in 2020 include:

  • Just Cause;
  • Installment payment plans on deposit and move-in fees;
  • Prohibition of online rent bidding sites;
  • Increase notification periods for rent increase;
  • Add citizenship status protection in rental housing code;
  • First-in-Time;
  • Limit fees required by landlords;
  • Criminal records ban;
  • Tenant Relocation Assistance;
  • Require mediation between landlords and tenants for dispute resolution; and
  • Require distribution of information to tenants.

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Public Policy + Principles

The legal system should provide fair and equal justice to landlords and tenants alike. RHAWA believes in protecting the general health, safety and welfare of all tenants, and works to eliminate sub-standard rental units by supporting existing state law and local housing, fire and health codes. RHAWA believes Landlord-Tenant Laws should be uniform statewide.

Housing regulations should be fair and should minimize compliance burdens and costs. RHAWA believes housing regulations should not place discriminatory burdens on rental housing relative to other forms of housing.

RHAWA opposes regulatory fees on rental housing that seek to transfer the cost of general public services, including police and fire protection, to rental property owners and tenants. Regulatory fees and user fees must fairly apportion regulatory and service costs based on the services actually provided to individual fee payers. Government should not use regulatory fees and user fees to fund general public services that are available to fee payers and non-fee payers alike.

Government at all levels should carefully weigh the benefits of housing and land use regulations to ensure regulatory costs do not outweigh regulatory benefits. The high cost of compliance with housing and land use regulations, including permitting requirements and development restrictions, are major factors in reducing housing availability that leads to high housing costs.

A competitive rental market provides efficient and cost effective housing to the vast majority of the population. RHAWA opposes rent control. Rent control distorts the allocation of housing resources, discourages investment and upkeep, induces unfair rent discrimination, and creates expensive and intrusive bureaucracy.

RHAWA has long championed rental vouchers for low-income persons needing housing. Vouchers offer an effective, efficient program for providing market-rate housing to those who can't otherwise afford it. RHAWA believes rental vouchers should be a significant part of any low-income housing program.

Respect for property rights is the foundation of a free society and economic prosperity. RHAWA believes government regulations should not unduly or unfairly restrict the rights of property owners to control the use of their property. RHAWA believes housing regulations should recognize and preserve the privacy and property rights of both tenants and landlords.

The public welfare demands open and honest government. RHAWA believes government officials are public servants and should conduct their affairs openly and honestly. Full access to information concerning the conduct of government at every level is a fundamental and necessary precondition to sound governance of society. Public officials are encouraged to fully and faithfully comply with the Public Disclosure Act.

RHAWA believes in protecting the general health safety and welfare of all tenants, and works to eliminate substandard rental units by supporting existing state law and local housing, fire and health codes. Existing laws and codes are sufficient to remedy egregious, unsafe conditions, but only if they are enforced by local jurisdictions.

Rental housing should be taxed uniformly based on value, along with all other real estate. RHAWA strongly supports tax uniformity and opposes taxes that discriminate against rental housing, such as business taxes and regulatory fees that are imposed on rental housing to raise revenue.

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