Upcoming Conference | 2019 Re-Wire Policy Conference, Dec 10, 2019 Register

House passes bills related to renters’ rights

Three bills that would alter Washington’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA), which regulates the relationship between landlords and tenants, passed off the House floor this week. Among other changes, the bills would give renters more notice when they face situations like rent increases and pay-or-vacate notices.

If HB 1462 passes, landlords would be required to give tenants 120 days’ written notice if they plan to demolish, relocate, or change the premises they’re renting in ways that would displace the tenants.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, the lead sponsor of that bill, said it came about as a result of the Tiki apartments incident in Tacoma last year, when tenants were given as little as 25 days to move out after their building changed hands.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, who represents the district where the incident occurred, brought it up during floor debate. She said, given the Tiki apartments incident, a six-month notice requirement like what’s in the bill is a “really good start.”

“The tenants in the Tiki apartments, many of them had been in their apartments for over a decade,” Jinkins said. “And they really had nowhere else to go. Within six months, the city and the community working together was able to find places for everyone in those apartments.”

That bill passed with a bipartisan, 94-4 vote. The other bills related to tenant protections didn’t yield such broad agreement.

HB 1440 requires landlords to give tenants 60 days’ written notice before they increase rent in most cases. Today, landlords are required to give 30 days’ notice. That bill passed the House in a bipartisan, 62-36 vote.

HB 1453 sparked the most debate. It makes several changes to the RLTA, specifically around unlawful detainers. Unlawful detainers occur when someone remains in their rented property after their lease is up, after they fail to pay rent after receiving a pay-or-vacate notice, or after they violate their rental agreement, among other reasons.

Currently, tenants have three days to come up with their rent once they get a notice to pay or vacate. The bill increases that to 14 days.

Representatives opposed to the bill introduced several amendments during debate. One, from Barkis, would change that to 7 days. He said he chose the number by working with stakeholders and researching norms.

“We found that 41 states in the country… are between zero and seven days,” Barkis said.

The two-week period, Rep. Amy Walen said, was chosen in part because many people are paid every two weeks. And, Walen said, many other states — as well as Washington’s commercial renters — have at least 14 days in such situations.

Rep. Jeremie Dufault argued that the longer notice period would raise the level of scrutiny on tenants and keep some people out of housing — an argument opponents echoed while arguing against other aspects of the bill, as well.

Among its many changes to the RLTA, the bill makes it so tenants can’t be evicted for failing to pay for costs outside of rent and utilities — like late fees, damages, deposits, legal costs, or attorney’s fees. Landlords can pursue other ways to collect those payments under the bill, however.

And, it gives a court discretion in deciding what to do after it rules in favor of the landlord in situations when a tenant might have to leave the property.

Another common refrain from the bill’s opponents, like Rep. Morgan Irwin, was the need to balance tenants’ rights with landlords’ rights. Landlords — some of the bill’s opponents voiced — own the property, after all. And Barkis emphasized that the focus should also be on what’s causing tenants to fall short on their rent.

“Let’s help the tenants who truly need the help, but let’s not forget to ask that other question: Why? What’s causing them to get to this point?” Barkis said.

The bill ultimately passed 54-44, largely along party lines. Its lead sponsor, Rep. Nicole Macri, named it among her high-priority bills in a 34-bill affordable housing package earlier this session and reiterated her support in debate.

“These important improvements will bring stability to families in Washington State,” Macri said. “They will help to address our homelessness crisis, and they will ensure that we will have strong communities.”