Eviction reform passed by state Legislature

Tenant protections included longer notices and more judicial discretion.

Tenants in Washington state will have much greater eviction protections once a bill passed by the Legislature is signed into law.

The bill, known as SB 5600, will require landlords to give tenants 14 days notice to pay rent before eviction proceedings can begin, increasing it from the current three-day requirement. It also requires landlords give renters 60 day notice for rent increases. Additionally the bill gives judges the ability to consider factors such as the effect eviction would have on tenants during eviction proceedings. The bill was sponsored by Bellevue state Sen. Patty Kuderer.

“It’s landmark legislation,” Kuderer said. “You know we really haven’t had reforms to the (Residential Landlord-Tenant Act) in roughly 40 years, and it was the result of many, many, many hours of private landlords and public landlords and tenant advocates and tenants sitting at the table and working through some very difficult issues.”

The bill’s passage was applauded by housing advocates, including Xochitl Maykovich of the Washington Community Action Network. Maykovich also sat on the Seattle Women’s Commission, which along with the Housing Justice Project, produced a report detailing the cost of evictions for people living in Seattle.

“I think it is going to really help people, because a report that I worked on last year found that a majority of evictions were for a month or less in rent, and that’s when you’re being made homeless for falling behind for less than a month in rent,” she said.

The report found that evictions in Seattle were one of the leading causes of homelessness. About 75 percent of those evicted ended up without a place to go, and women were more likely to be evicted over small amounts of money. Of single-tenant household cases where the renter owed $100 or less, 81 percent were women.

More than half of all eviction filings were made against people of color, with black tenants experiencing evictions at a rate 4.5 times higher than expected for Seattle’s demographics, the report said. Some 87 percent of eviction filings were for nonpayment of rent, with more than half stemming from one month or less of unpaid rent.

Furthermore, medical emergencies were the most common reason given by people contacted for the report as to why they failed to pay rent. Until SB 5600 is signed into law, landlords can — for example — not receive payment, post a notice and begin eviction proceedings all while someone is in the hospital for a few days and landlords are not obligated to take payments after the three day period.

“It’s a drastic change,” said Maykovich. “Right now you could have been behind 10 bucks and let’s say you didn’t get it in those three days and you were out of town and didn’t realize you wrote your check for the wrong number, and you get back in town and your three days are up and you come back to an evictions summons.”

Increasing the amount of time tenants have to pay rent gives them a chance to raise or borrow money or wait for a paycheck to clear. It also lets judges look at the facts of an eviction case if it proceeds to that point, and issue remedies like staying the eviction for 90 days and allowing tenants to pay back-rent along with a late fee of not more than $75.

“It’s just putting some common sense and humanity into the process,” Maykovich said.

The bill was opposed by landlord groups, including the Washington Landlord Association and its president Rob Trickler. Trickler is an eviction lawyer and said he’s concerned the legislation will lead small landlords to sell instead of rent and drive up security deposit fees.

“It’s absolutely atrocious — it’s going to be a back-breaker for a lot of people on both sides,” he said.

Trickler said the cost for eviction could also increase for landlords and lead to landlords being less flexible in making exceptions for allowing tenants to pay later. About three-quarters of the landlords he has talked to already wait until two weeks after rent is missed to serve renters with a notice of non-payment.

“This bill has cost the tenants the landlord’s willingness to be patient and wait,” Trickler said.

The Washington Landlord Association will be watching for what effects the legislation has and could file lawsuits to challenge the law.

However, other attorneys think dire predictions are unfounded, including Edmund Witter with the Housing Justice Project. Several other states, including Tennessee and Minnesota, have had similar notification requirements for decades along with New York. New York City’s real estate market is still chugging along even with increased tenant protections, which did not cause a mass exodus of landlords, Witter said.

“I just don’t think that’s how the real estate industry even works,” he said.

Witter said the additional tenant protections will benefit renters and could lead to avoiding evictions in nearly every instance. Under current law, Witter said he is only able to keep about 20 percent of people in their rentals.

“It gives us a lot more ability to intervene,” he said.

It also allows organizations enough time to begin providing assistance to renters. Increased flexibility for eviction judges to prescribe remedies could lead to more equitable outcomes for tenants.

Oregon recently increased protections for renters as well, with their Legislature enacting statewide rent control earlier this year. It limited the amount a landlord could raise rents to 7 percent annually and prohibited no-cause evictions. A bill in Washington’s Legislature which would have prohibited no-cause evictions died in the House this session.

In Oregon, activists said the major factor in securing rent control was creating the grassroots political will to pressure representatives to enact it. Additional pushes for renter protections may be on their way at a local level in Washington state, Maykovich said. Housing organizations are planning on pushing for a good-cause eviction bill initiative in Federal Way and eventually hope to see something similar enacted at the state level.

“When we get this passed, Federal Way will have the best tenant protections in the state,” she said.

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